x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emiratis infected with HIV to enjoy legal protection

The Minister of Health has outlined legal measures being drawn up to protect the rights of Emiratis with HIV/Aids.

SHARJAH AND NEW YORK // The Minister of Health has outlined legal measures being drawn up to protect the rights of Emiratis with HIV/Aids. Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami said the registration of 35 patients during the past year brought the number of Emiratis being treated to 540. Speaking during an event in Sharjah yesterday to mark World Aids Day, he said ministry lawyers were drafting laws to be passed early next year that would ensure people with HIV/Aids had access to education, employment and basic rights.

Emirati patients, including the newly registered 29 men and six women, are being monitored and treated, whether they are in hospitals, nursing homes or with their families, he said. "We are fully in contact with all the patients, giving them all the necessary physical and material help, psychological counselling, education and medication," he said. "We also keep strict surveillance on their social interactions to ensure they do not spread the disease."

Mr Qattami described the UAE as a regional trailblazer for taking steps to improve conditions for patients, providing free treatment and medicine and enacting laws to safeguard their rights. Government policy ensured that migrants found to be infected with HIV would be deported, he added. Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the assistant undersecretary for preventive medicine, said ministry officials were quick to respond to the emerging HIV/Aids crisis during the early 1980s.

"As soon as the disease was declared a global calamity, we formed research teams and national committees to help deal with the pandemic," he said. The Government set up nine laboratories to curb the spread of the disease, he added. In a telephone interview, the regional director for UNaids, Renu Chahil-Graf, praised the Government's "impressive" efforts to tackle HIV and protect the rights of patients.

Ms Chahil-Graf warned that the minister's figure of 540 Emirati sufferers was likely to be significantly lower than the actual number because social stigma still prevented infected people from coming forward. A number of Emiratis fly abroad for treatment, she said. "In all likelihood, like in many other countries, the figure is much higher. There is a lot of stigma and discrimination attached to the disease," she said.

Ms Chahil-Graf praised the draft legislation and said she hoped the Government would pursue policies of "carrots rather than sticks" and avoid compulsory testing. "There needs to be information from the Government and the media that there is free treatment, that there will be voluntary and confidential counselling and testing," she said. "If these messages are not out there, then it won't have a positive effect."

World Aids Day is marked annually on Dec 1 by profile-raising events around the world. Many countries organise events on other days around that date. ykakande@thenational.ae