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AIDS epidemic sweeps East Mediterranean

Gulf News

An AIDS epidemic is sweeping through the East Mediterranean region despite efforts by some countries to fight it.

More than 10,000 people have fallen victim to the killer disease and 400,000 are believed to be carrying the virus, according to official figures.

The number of persons believed to be infected with the AIDS virus, or HIV, has been revised upwards massively over the past few years. This is due to the recent modifications in the calculations for Sudan and Djibouti, said a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"By most conservative estimates, more than 400,000 people are thought to be living with HIV in the Eastern Mediterranean region... this is almost double the estimates of previous years," said the report, published in the Arab Human Development Report for 2002.

"All countries of the region reported new HIV and AIDS cases during 2000... The cumulative number of AIDS cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region since 1987 has reached 10,479, of which 1,263 were reported in 2000."

The report, distributed in the UAE by the United Nations Development Programme, covers Egypt, Sudan and other East African countries, Arab states, Iran and other Middle East nations.

It said several countries in the region are still reluctant to publicly debate the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, as they associate it with sex. Some of them have also failed to respond to appeals for reporting AIDS cases.

"Information on HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Mediterranean region remains many countries, the epidemiological surveillance system is still weak and the reporting is often delayed and incomplete," the report said.

It indicated that the AIDS infection in the region was mainly transmitted through sex, as transmission through other means accounted for only four per cent of those cases.

"The high geographical mobility among populations within the region exposes migrants to the disease and calls for better-targeted prevention and care," it said.

"In general, the HIV epidemic in the Eastern Mediterranean region appears to be advancing slowly... however, applying global figures to the region masks the wide diversity in the level and patterns of the HIV epidemic in different countries. Countries suffering from complex emergencies are the hardest hit."

The report said that success in fighting AIDS rests on the political will to deal with it as a "real threat that requires addressing vulnerability wherever it exists and creating an open environment, which enhance the well-being of the people and communities living with the disease."