Saudi Arabian Government, Society Beginning To Address HIV/AIDS
The Saudi Arabian government is beginning to address HIV/AIDS after being urged by AIDS advocates, physicians and social workers to more openly combat the disease's growing impact on the country, the New York Times reports. Although the government previously kept HIV/AIDS statistics hidden in sealed envelopes, it recently has begun opening up about the disease. The Ministry of Health in June announced that more than 10,000 people in the country were living with HIV/AIDS, although some physicians say the real number is much higher. About 7,800 HIV/AIDS cases were reported in 2004, and 6,700 cases were reported in 2003. About 600 children currently are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the ministry. In addition, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center holds regular public discussions on living with the disease. Some physicians also make frequent appearances on Saudi television to talk about the disease and safer sex practices. In addition, HIV-positive citizens of Saudi Arabia -- who have long been eligible to receive health care at no cost -- now receive antiretroviral drugs at no cost. However, more than three-quarters of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country are foreigners, who are not eligible for no-cost health care and often are imprisoned and deported when found to be living with the disease. According to the Times, challenges still facing most people living with HIV/AIDS in the country include the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. Muneera al-Dahhan, a clinical counselor at King Faisal Hospital, said, "The main problem here is not the disease itself. It is the tough view of society. People see this as the result of sexual behavior that is unacceptable in our society and are unable to accept it." In addition, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Saudi Arabia often do not include discussion of condoms or safer sex practices but instead focus on abstinence and the "fear of God," the Times reports (Fattah, New York Times, 8/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.