AIDS Alarm Spreads

By Miles, Helen | The Middle East, May 1994 | Go to article overview

AIDS Alarm Spreads


Miles, Helen, The Middle East


The chief problem of A IDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - has frequently been one of igno 1980s when the first cases came to light, there was widespread fear that AIDS could be transmitted b through "infected" water in swimming pools or even by insects, such as mosquitos, who had previously an infected person. Fortunately, a series of high profile campaigns have educated many millions of p AIDS sufferers are not a danger to others and that the HIV virus which can result in AIDS can be pas else in only a few ways, mainly through sexual intercourse, both heterosexual and homosexual, throug through the sharing of infected hypodermic syringes or from an infected mother to her child, either result of breast feeding. Many western nations have taken the official line that the more informed p the greater the likelihood of containing the spread of the disease. Only last month in France, which of Aids sufferers in Europe - an estimated 110,000 people are known to be infected with the HIV viru media personalities took part in a marathon three hour television and radio broadcast to heighten Ai All seven of the country's television channels filled their screens with programmes intended to help and public prejudice. Unfortunately some Islamic countries have found difficulty in confronting the have even gone as far as denying that homosexuality, prostitution or any form of promiscuity exists this head in the sand attitude is allowed to continue the effects could be tragic. Helen Miles repor way Egypt is tackling the problem.

When one of the first cases of Aids in Egypt came to light in 1986, information about the killer virus was scanty and the expertise and facilities to deal with the situation were non existent. The patient was whisked into isolation in a Cairo hospital and put under heavy guard.

Not long afterwards the patient died. Not of Aids, but of gun shot wounds - murdered by one of the guards who feared for his own life in case the Aids victim touched him.

At the time concern about the global impact of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) was gathering pace. Terrifying rumours about the number of people already unwittingly infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) were circulating along with equally alarming predictions about the potential ability of the virus to decimate entire populations. This worldwide panic was exacerbated in places like Egypt where Aids touched many taboos, making clear information about the virus difficult to obtain.

Since then, however, 307 Egyptians and 205 foreigners living in Egypt have tested HIV positive, according to the Ministry of Health. These figures are surprisingly low given that Egypt has a population of almost 60m and that worldwide the number of people estimated to be infected with the HIV virus has reached 14m, especially considering Egypt's geographical position on the edge of the African continent, one of the world's worst hit regions.

The low figures are partly explained by the fact that they include only people who happen, for one reason or another, who have sough to be tested for the virus - mostly Egyptians seeking visas to Gulf countries or foreigners applying for work papers.

The common official explanation given for the low number of HIV positive cases, however, is that Egyptian society is virtually free of Western licentiousness. This means that of the four principle routes of transmission - sexual contact, shared needles, blood transfusions and from mother to child - the first is not a real concern because sex is supposedly confined to monogamous married relationships. Polygamy, although permitted, is not common.

"Although we do have prostitution and homosexuality in Egypt, they do not exist to the some degree as in other parts of the world," said Dr Mohamed Wohdan, director of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) disease prevention and control programme in the Eastern Mediterranean region. …

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