x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Spending money on prevention is the way forward

The allocation of financial and human resources remains a stumbling block in the national commitment against HIV, according to a UNAIDS report.

Not enough resources are being allocated to preventive measures in the nation's fight against HIV, according to an Unaids report.

The 2012 UAE Country Progress Report shows that in 2010 96 per cent of the country's total Aids spending, which was nearly Dh94 million, was spent on HIV testing and screening programmes. About 3 per cent is spent on treatment and less than 1 per cent on prevention programmes.

However, in a country with a low prevalence of AIDS, such as the UAE, investing in prevention is key, said Dr Hamidreza Setayesh, Unaids regional programme adviser.

The report said that the limited resources available for HIV prevention measures in 2010 and 2011 were often spent on ad hoc project-based activities, which are typically discontinued after 1-2 years.

"Awareness and increasing knowledge is good, but it is not the core of prevention," Dr Setayesh said, adding that a combination of biomedical, behavioural and structural prevention methods was essential.

Meanwhile, excessive screening could prove wasteful if not targeted at relevant groups, Dr Setayesh warned.

"It's important for a country to know its status, and that resources are not diverted at groups who are not at high risk and that key population segments where prevalence is highest are not ignored," Dr Setayesh said. "That's really the fear that we have."

Local experts attributed the high cost of screening to the large number of expatriates who must be screened before being granted a visa.

"Thousands of workers are coming in, thousands of people are renewing their visas, so obviously the expenses will be higher. The country here has its own needs," said Dr Abdullah Ustadi, an HIV consultant at Rashid Hospital.

The report also noted that while universities could play an important role in educating young people about HIV, many were reluctant to be associated with prevention efforts,

However, local and international experts said there were ways to educate people while remaining culturally sensitive.

"In our society if we say: 'OK, you want to have sex use a condom', it means I'm promoting sex or adultery. So I don't tell them directly … but I tell them in other countries they use a condom to protect themselves and I leave it to them," he said. "I can even go through religion. There are so many ways I can approach it, but the point is that they should come to talk."

mismail@thenational.ae