Wednesday, August 3, 2011

HIV/AIDS in the News in the Middle East and West Africa

The incidence of HIV/AIDS is low by world standards in the Middle East and in many Western African countries, as well. But that does not mean that problems don't exist. Reuters reports on a new study by a group in Qatar published in PLoS Medicine suggesting that there is a generally unrecognized epidemic in a few middle eastern countries. This appears to be largely a result of men having sex with men (MSM):

Epidemics of HIV are emerging among gay and bisexual men in the Middle East and North Africa and high levels of risky sexual behavior threaten to spread the AIDS virus further in the region, researchers said Tuesday.
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 percent in a certain population group -- in several countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia.
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.
"Men who have sex with men are still a highly hidden population in the region and there is stigma around this behavior, 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.
In the meantime, the stigma against MSM in Africa has made headlines in Ghana.
The minister of Ghana's Western Region, Paul Evans Aidoo, publicly described homosexuality as "detestable and abominable" after media reports in late May that 8,000 homosexuals had registered with health NGOs in the country's west (the information appears to come from records kept by the NGOs of people who accessed services for MSM).
Aidoo has since called for increased security in the region and the arrest of all homosexuals. Other religious leaders and politicians have followed suit, condemning homosexual activity.
This of course only increases the chances that HIV/AIDS will become a bigger problem because it has raised fears among the population about going to NGOs that might be able to provide help.

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