Preventing Spread Of HIV In Middle Eastern, North African Countrie

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Northern African and Middle Eastern countries, including the UnitedArab Emirates, should acknowledge the existence of drug use andcommercial sex work to effectively prevent the spread of HIV, Ehab AlKharrat, senior program adviser on HIV/AIDS for the United Nations Development Programme, said recently, the Gulf News reports.


Accordingto U.N. estimates, about 68,000 people contracted HIV in the regionlast year, and new cases increased by 300% between 2002 and 2004. Inthe U.A.E., injection drug use and unprotected sex are the primaryroutes of HIV transmission, according to the Ministry of Health.In March, the health ministry reported that 508 people were living withHIV/AIDS in the U.A.E., but some health experts believe the actualnumber is much higher. Al Kharrat said that Arab countries and themedia need to alter drastically their HIV/AIDS campaigns, adding, "Arabstates should change from just disseminating information campaigns towide-scale evidence-based and outreach campaigns."

Nada AlMarzouqi, head of U.A.E. Ministry of Health's HIV Committee, said thatmore research is needed to determine if commercial sex workers andinjection drug users in the U.A.E are widespread enough to include themin HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. "HIV is a problem, (but) we need properstudies and proper research," Al Marzouqi said, adding, "We have to seeif drug abuse and sex workers are a problem in the country. Maybe theyare a problem in other Arab countries, but not (necessarily) here." AlKharrat said that Arab states need to accept certain facts about druguse and sex work if they want to prevent an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Headded, "Almost all the Arab states still have a window of opportunitybecause [they] have low prevalence of HIV/AIDS and [they] can managethe epidemic package if [they] start now" (Muslim, Gulf News, 11/16).

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