Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
UNAIDS Tries To ‘Break the Silence’ on HIV/AIDS in Middle East, North Africa To Stop Disease’s Spread
UNAIDS is trying to "break the silence" on HIV/AIDS issues in the Middle East and North Africa to stop the spread of the virus in the region, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although the HIV prevalence rate in the Middle East and North Africa is only about 0.3%, the number of reported HIV cases in the region increased by 13% in 2004, according to UNAIDS. In addition, the number of newly reported cases in the region rose 26% from 2002 to 2004, the third-fastest rate of increase in the world, according to UNAIDS statistics. Khadija Moalla, the United Nations Development Programme HIV coordinator for the region, said that there is a "small window of opportunity to stem the tide" of HIV/AIDS to ensure that prevalence rates in the regions do not rise to 5%, a level at which the "virus spreads very fast, sometimes increasing by as much as tenfold in five years," according to the Journal. Moalla said that the primary challenge to discourse on disease prevention in the region is breaking through sexual taboos, including the discussion of sex between men and women, sex between men and men and other "issues that are traditionally off-limits," according to the Journal. To help facilitate discussion of HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS in December 2004 held a "groundbreaking" conference with religious leaders (Howard, Wall Street Journal, 2/2). More than 80 Muslim and Christian leaders who attended the conference in Cairo, Egypt, debated methods to prevent the spread of HIV but did not endorse the U.N. position supporting the use of barrier contraceptives to prevent transmission of the virus. However, the religious leaders acknowledged "the medical call for the use of different prevention means" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/15/04). "Everyone started by trying to prove he is the most stern defender of virtue," Ehab El Kharrat of the Kasrel Dobara Presbyterian Church in Egypt said of the conference, adding, "[B]ut together, eyes were opened to new meanings of virtue, compassion ... of action rather than silence" (Wall Street Journal, 2/2).
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