IRIN News Examines HIV/AIDS Stigma, Discrimination in IraqIRIN News on Wednesday examined the stigma and discrimination faced by HIV-positive people in Iraq. According to Ihsan Jaafar, head of the Ministry of Health's public health directorate, Iraq has a relatively low HIV prevalence, and 44 people are confirmed to be living with the virus in the country. Wadah Hamed -- head of Iraq's national HIV/AIDS prevention program and the country's AIDS Research Center -- said HIV first entered Iraq in 1985 through the importation of contaminated blood. Since 1986, the country has detected 482 cases of the virus, of which 272 have occurred among Iraqis and the rest among foreigners. Treatment in the late 1980s was "tough and arbitrary," Hamed said, adding that those who tested HIV-positive often "were placed in segregated medical facilities."
According to IRIN News, people living with HIV in Iraq often face "social isolation and even death at the hands of religious extremists who believe the virus is proof that an HIV-positive person must have engaged in indecent acts." In addition, some Muslim extremists believe that people with HIV are "'sinners who should be killed," IRIN News reports. Iraqi officials do not have data on HIV-positive people gunmen have killed, according to IRIN News. Iraq's health ministry in response to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the country is launching a campaign to raise awareness about the disease by working with local media outlets, distributing posters and holding workshops. Secondary school curricula also will include HIV/AIDS awareness programs, and officials have established a hotline for people seeking advice about the disease. According to Hamed, the campaign intends to stay "low-key, because our country is still not open to such subjects." He added that he does not want the campaign to "trigger panic and anxiety among the public."
According to IRIN News, Iraq's government currently provides the equivalent of about $85 monthly plus a clothing allowance for people in the country living with HIV. In addition, those who contracted the disease in 1985 receive an extra $200 monthly. The government also provides no-cost monthly checkups for all HIV-positive people, partner examinations every three months and additional examinations for other family members every six months. At least 11 medical centers in Baghdad provide these services, IRIN News reports. In addition, the health ministry in coordination with the World Health Organization provides no-cost antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive people in the country (IRIN News, 1/14). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.