Leaders in Muslim Nations Must Do More To Fight HIV/AIDS, Report Says
The leaders of many predominantly Muslim nations are ignoring potential HIV/AIDS epidemics and not acting to combat the disease, which could have "serious repercussions," according to a report released earlier this month by the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The report, titled "Behind the Veil of a Public Health Crisis: HIV/AIDS in the Muslim World," says "if leaders continue to ignore the problem, AIDS could debilitate or even destabilize some of these societies by killing large numbers of people in the 15- to 49-year age group" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/29). One of the main factors contributing to lack of action against HIV/AIDS in the region is the belief that premarital sex, adultery, commercial sex work, sex between people of the same gender and injection drug use either do not exist or happen very infrequently in the Muslim world, according to the report. Other factors impeding action against HIV/AIDS in the region include "political primacy of the Koran and weak or absent democracy," according to the report. UNAIDS estimates that nearly one million people in North Africa, the Middle East and predominantly Muslim countries in Asia are HIV-positive. However, those figures are "severely understated" because UNAIDS figures rely on surveillance data, and a lack of data can be interpreted as a lack of HIV cases, according to the report.
The report praises the predominately Muslim nations of Iran and Bangladesh for implementing effective HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. "Iran's President [Mohammad] Khatami and his administration have been very forthcoming in the press in recent years about both the extent of the epidemic and the urgent need to control further spread of the disease," the report says. Needle-exchange programs are offered in "high drug-use" areas of the Iranian capital Tehran, and many pharmacies sell syringes. In Bangladesh, condom use is being promoted around the country, and thousands of religious leaders are trained to deliver educational messages on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in mosques, according to the report.
Leaders in Muslim nations must mount aggressive HIV/AIDS surveillance programs, adopt sweeping legislation and social changes and assure people they can be good Muslims while providing care for HIV-positive people, the reports says (Eberstadt/Kelley, "Behind the Veil of a Public Health Crisis: HIV/AIDS in the Muslim World," June 2005). "An important take-home message for all Muslim nations is that real behaviors on the streets are sometimes in marked contrast to the expected behaviors of good Muslims, and that is something the leaders in these countries must deal with," Laura Kelley, co-author of the report, said (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/29).