Tuesday, December 2, 2008

HIV Risk Factors, Misconceptions Could Lead to 'Rapid Spread' of Virus in Egypt

[Dec 02, 2008]

Although Egypt has a low HIV prevalence at 0.02%, numerous risk factors and misconceptions about the virus could lead to a "rapid spread" of the disease, Egypt's Daily News reports.

According to the News, factors such as overpopulation among people ages 15 to 24, who account for 50% of HIV cases in Egypt; poverty; illiteracy, especially among women; and a weak health system create an "ideal environment" for the spread of HIV. Vulnerable groups -- including commercial sex workers, injection drug users, men who have sex with men, refugees, homeless children and prison inmates -- are at risk of HIV and could transmit the virus to the general population because "none of these are closed groups," Wessam El Beih, UNAIDS country officer in Egypt, said.

In addition, misconceptions about HIV are prevalent in the region and lead to HIV-associated stigma and discrimination, which discourages people from seeking HIV testing or treatment. El Beih noted that some people in the country believe all HIV cases in Egypt were contracted outside the country but that 80% of HIV-positive women contracted the virus from their husbands.

According to Jeffrey O'Malley, director of the HIV/AIDS group at the United Nations Development Programme, the "most important aspect [of HIV/AIDS] Egypt has to work on" is prevention. Although Egypt has a multi-sector approach for addressing HIV that includes collaboration with religious leaders and action at the community level, O'Malley said that "many African countries, such as Botswana, are far more advanced than Egypt when it comes to HIV." The country's HIV strategy also includes efforts to increase education about HIV/AIDS among medical students, Ahmed Khamis, UNAIDS program officer in Egypt, said (Abdoun, Daily News, 11/30).