x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

HIV's deadly stigma

The stigma attached to Aids need not be allowed to block the public-health policies needed to control the syndrome.

Three decades of research have produced considerable progress against HIV and Aids. The UN says Aids-related ailments killed 1.8 million people worldwide in 2010, but that same year 34 million people were "living with Aids" - a neologism that reveals how far we have come against this scourge.

The key weapons in this fight are preventive education, early detection and medications. But in the UAE, as The National reported yesterday, some institutions are reluctant to endorse prevention campaigns that imply toleration of extramarital sex or illegal injected drugs.

The stigma of Aids is one barrier against anonymous testing, so essential in early diagnosis, which in turn cuts infection rates and simplifies treatment.

But it is not inevitable that sound public-health measures must come into conflict with religious mores, law or tradition. Public education discouraging risky behaviours is part of public-health education on many topics in many lands, from warnings against smoking to reminders about the role of certain diet choices in colorectal cancer.

As for other aspects of the Aids fight, policymakers and medical experts must consider high-level consultations with religious and senior governmental authorities, in an effort to work out effective, acceptable ways of keeping the diseases associated with Aids from gaining ground.