Large Percentage of HIV-Positive Women in Arab Countries Contracted Virus From Their Husbands, UNDP Regional Coordinator Says
About 80% of HIV-positive women in the Middle East contracted the virus from their husbands, Saeed Al Zenari, United Nations Development Programme regional coordinator for HIV/AIDS programs, said Monday at a conference aimed at encouraging religious leaders to help increase prevention efforts in the region, the Gulf News reports. According to Al Zenari, the large percentage of women who contract the disease from their husbands poses a threat to families in the region.
Al Zenari at the conference said that there is a "wrong perception" in the Middle East that HIV is a "result of adultery," adding that HIV-positive people therefore are "discriminated" against. HIV-associated stigma and discrimination are widespread in the region, the News reports. A religious leader during an open session at the conference said that imams can encourage people to be abstinent before marriage and to "avoid adultery" but added that imams "cannot provide guidelines" on HIV prevention.
The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Middle East is between 500,000 and one million, but the number of new HIV cases in the region is higher than in Eastern Europe or North America, Al Zenari said. He added that it is difficult to collect data about the disease in the region. "We have no reliable data available because a majority of the people who have the disease either refuse to seek medical care, fearing to be discriminated, or they are unaware" they are HIV-positive, he said. About 90% of HIV-positive people in the region are not aware of their status, Al Zenari said.
Between 2002 and 2004, the number of new HIV cases in the region increased by 300%, according to UNAIDS. In 2006, 68,000 people in the region were newly diagnosed with HIV, and 36,000 died of AIDS-related causes, the News reports (Bibbo, Gulf News, 12/11).