Aids Focus

HIV epidemics spreading in Middle East

2011-08-05 11:31

Special Report

London - Epidemics of HIV are emerging among gay and bisexual men in the Middle East and North Africa and high levels of risky sexual behaviour threaten to spread the Aids virus further in the region, researchers say.

In the first study of its kind in a region where homosexuality and bisexuality are taboo, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar found evidence for concentrated HIV epidemics - where infection rates are above 5% in a certain population group - in several countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia.

In one setting in Pakistan, HIV rates reached up to 28%, they said in a study in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal.

The researchers stressed the need for at-risk countries to act quickly to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services for men who have sex with men in an effort to halt further spread.

An estimated 33.3m people worldwide had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes Aids in 2009, according to the latest United Nations data, and 22.5m of those live in sub-Saharan Africa.

'Black hole in the global HIV map'


There is little published data on the Middle East and North African regions and Ghina Mumtaz, who led the study with colleague Laith Abu-Raddad, said this had been driving misconceptions that there is no reliable information at all.

"It's like the black hole in the global HIV map - and this has triggered many controversies and debates around the status of the epidemic," she said.

But when they looked more closely, the researchers found that data was indeed available, although often it had been gathered by various groups and not made public.

After analysing various reports, they found "considerable and increasing epidemiological evidence on HIV and risk behaviour among men who have sex with men" in the region.

"It's important to see what's there to get an evidence-based understanding of the dynamics of the epidemic," Mumtaz said.

The findings were worrying, but not surprising, the researchers said. They found that by 2008, HIV transmission via anal sex among men was responsible for more than a quarter of notified cases of HIV in several countries in the region.

"All over the world there are actually newly-emerging epidemics in men who have sex with men and ... this region is no exception," said Abu-Raddad.

He added that more testing, surveillance and access to HIV services would help limit the size of the epidemics and prevent HIV transmission from reaching other population groups such as women and heterosexuals. He stressed that this did not have to require uncomfortable public statements by governments.

"Men who have sex with men are still a highly hidden population in the region and there is stigma around this behaviour, but some countries have been able to find creative ways of dealing with the problem and at the same time avoiding the social, cultural and political sensitivities," Mumtaz said.

Morocco, Lebanon and Pakistan have supported NGOs to deliver services to this highly hidden population without any direct government involvement, Mumtaz added.

"We are seeing some very effective programmes by NGOs who can provide an avenue for the governments to address their growing HIV problems," she said. "These programmes need to be expanded and initiated in the rest of the countries."

Read more on:    north africa  |  hiv aids  |  health

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
X

SHARE:

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
PARTNER CONTENT
INFOGRAPHIC: New thinking required for retirement

Everything we believe about retirement is fast becoming outdated.

/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.