HIV Epidemics Emerging in Middle East, North Africa: Study

Manila Bulletin, August 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

HIV Epidemics Emerging in Middle East, North Africa: Study


LONDON (Reuters) - Epidemics of HIV are emerging among gay and bisexual men in the Middle East and North Africa and high levels of risky sexual behavior threaten to spread the AIDS virus further in the region, researchers said Tuesday.

In the first study of its kind in a region where homosexuality and bisexuality are taboo, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar found evidence for concentrated HIV epidemics -- where infection rates are above 5 percent in a certain population group -- in several countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia.

In one setting in Pakistan, HIV rates reached up to 28 percent, they said in a study in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal.

The researchers stressed the need for at-risk countries to act quickly to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services for men who have sex with men in an effort to halt further spread.

An estimated 33.3 million people worldwide had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS in 2009, according to the latest United Nations data, and 22.5 million of those live in sub-Saharan Africa.

There is little published data on the Middle East and North African regions and Ghina Mumtaz, who led the study with colleague Laith Abu-Raddad, said this had been driving misconceptions that there is no reliable information at all.

"It's like the black hole in the global HIV map -- and this has triggered many controversies and debates around the status of the epidemic," she said in a telephone interview.

But when they looked more closely, the researchers found that data was indeed available, although often it had been gathered by various groups and not made public. …

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