x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Workshop tackles lack of knowledge about HIV and Aids

UNDP and HAAD held a media training workshop about HIV/AIDS in order to erase negative social stigmas in the UAE society.

ABU DHABI // Social stigmas that segregate people with HIV and the myth that members of certain religions and nationalities are immune to the disease must be stopped, said UN and Abu Dhabi officials. That is the message of a three-day workshop, Break the Silence, that was launched yesterday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Health Authority-Abu Dhabi. The workshop focused on directing the media to raise awareness and try to erase misconceptions about HIV and Aids. Officials of both organisations were also concerned with ignorance about HIV, even in the medical community. "The greatest percentage of medical personnel in Dubai think that HIV could be transmitted by interacting with a patient in any way, such as handshaking," said Dr Khaled Alloush, the UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for HIV. Dr Ehab el Kharrat, the senior programme adviser for the HIV/Aids Regional Programme in the Arab States, clarified that Aids could be spread only through unprotected sex, blood transfusions and injections. "The virus is not spread through kissing, coughing, sneezing, daily interaction or even using the same toilet," he said. "Therefore, patients should continue to lead normal lives. For example, if a judge or engineer get infected, they should continue to practise their professions and benefit society." Dr Kharrat also explained that antiretroviral drugs fight the growth of the virus inside the body, and thus have the potential to extend the lives of HIV patients and improve their health. He cautioned however, that the drugs are effective only in later stages of the virus. Arab governments provide the drugs to patients free of charge, but few use them. Moreover, there is a misconception in the Middle East that Aids is connected to sex between unmarried couples, which adds to the silence and lack of awareness surrounding the disease, Dr Kharrat said. Statistics show that 80 per cent of women in the Middle East who have Aids got it from their husbands, not from committing adultery, he said. Aids, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is the infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. It is possible to have HIV, which damages the body's immune system, without it leading to Aids. The lack of awareness and openness about HIV/Aids in the Arab world has damaging consequences. According to US statistics from 2006, there are 740,000 HIV patients in Western and central Europe and 460,000 in the Arab world., Yet 26,000 people in the Arab world people died from the disease, more than double the 12,000 who died from it in Europe. In addition, only five per cent of the Arab world's patients seek treatment, compared with 26 per cent in Europe. "Patients are afraid to admit they have the disease, thus they do not seek treatment," he said. hdajani@thenational.ae