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Stigma prevents early HIV treatment

The capital's health authority receives only a few inquiries every year from people who want to be tested for HIV, because of social stigmas, a health official disclosed.

ABU DHABI // The capital's health authority receives only a few inquiries every year from people who want to be tested for HIV, because of social stigmas, a health official disclosed. Dr Farida al Hosani, the senior regional officer for public health and policies, said 10 to 20 people a year contacted the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) by telephone to ask about HIV or make an appointment for a test. An equally small number visited a HAAD clinic for an HIV test or treatment. Dr Hosani said: "When they do show up they ask, 'How will I face society?' rather than 'How can I seek treatment?'." Public attitudes towards HIV must be addressed if more people are to come forward, she said.

Dr Hosani said several training workshops would be held in Abu Dhabi for healthcare workers, religious leaders and media workers. "Although general information about HIV/Aids is included in the school curriculum, it is not enough. Society's views of HIV must be changed." If more people realised the importance of admitting they may be infected, they could be treated and possibly lead normal lives - which would also help prevent the spread of the disease. "For instance, a resident who thinks he could be infected with HIV will not want to be tested because he is afraid of social stigmas and that society will look down on him. Some also want to avoid the shock of discovering their infection."

She noted the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis, an intensive course of drugs that can reduce the chance of infection if begun within 72 hours of exposure. A few people were treated with prophylaxis at HAAD facilities, which provides it free, but most were unaware of the possibility and were reluctant to admit to that they had HIV, she said. hdajani@thenational.ae

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