Aids on the rise in the Middle East, UN warns

THE HIV virus is rife in the Middle East, with the number of affected people steadily rising. According to figures issued last week by the UAE Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the number of people living with HIV and Aids in the Middle East and North Africa in 2004 is more than half a million.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  May 22, 2005

THE HIV virus is rife in the Middle East, with the number of affected people steadily rising. According to figures issued last week by the UAE Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the number of people living with HIV and Aids in the Middle East and North Africa in 2004 is more than half a million. Referring to the UAE, the UN agency said despite the low prevalence in the country, the spread of HIV and Aids that is becoming a much bigger problem. “Several seminars on HIV and Aids were conducted in the country by UNDP with the UAE Red Crescent Authority to students who represented five schools,” said a UNDP spokesman. “Statistics on HIV and Aids globally and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region particularly were highlighted and discussed. The students, who were encouraged to ask many questions to receive more information, were well received,” he added. Despite the dearth of information and data on HIV and Aids in the Arab world, the best available estimates indicate that prevalence rates are still among the lowest in the world. “UNAIDS and WHO estimate that at the end of 2004, the number of people living with HIV and Aids in the Middle East and North Africa region ranged from 230,000 to 1.5 million with an average of 540,000,” explained the UNDP. “But there are clear signs that the situation is changing fast.” The UNDP issued the statement last week to mark the 12th International Day of Families. “All Arab countries have reported increases in HIV/Aids infections in recent years, and the number is steadily rising,” said Kofi Annan, UN secretary general. “A strong and supportive family environment is one of the first lines of defence against the killer disease,” he emphasised. The International Day of Families provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families as basic units of society. Meanwhile, Medical Services International last week revealed that it received orders for its VScan HIV rapid test kit from Iran. It started shipping the test kits last week and the order represents the first batch of orders received from Middle Eastern countries. The company expects to sell in excess of 500,000 HIV test kits into the Middle East market in the first year. It says that figure could more than double within the next three years.

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