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HIV Infections Are Increasing in Arab Countries



Since its peak in the 1990s, the world has made great strides in dealing with HIV, and succeeded in reducing new cases of infection by less than half. Yet HIV has claimed the lives of more than 40 million people worldwide so far.

According to WHO data, the global number of new HIV infections decreased by 32% between 2010 and 2021.

Although the Middle East and North Africa region has the lowest HIV burden in the world, the number of new infections increased by 33% in the same period, according to a report shared by the United Nations AIDS Program with BBC News Arabic.

This made the region one of only three regions in the world - along with Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Latin America - where HIV is still on the rise.

While some believe that the increase in new HIV infections in the Middle East and North Africa region is due to more widespread use of HIV testing than before, experts believe that the problem may be more complex.

“The positive cases we are discovering through increased testing are not old cases,” says Dr. Nisreen Rizk, an HIV specialist at the American University of Beirut. Most of them are newly infected people, she adds, "and this indicates our failure to stop the spread of HIV in the region."

"There is certainly increased awareness of HIV in the Middle East and North Africa region, but it is still not enough."

According to Rizk, there is a lack of "accurate scientific information" in the region when it comes to HIV.

In the Arab region - and across the world - people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people, and sex workers are among the most vulnerable to contracting the virus. But does this mean that the rest of the groups are far from the disease?

Sherine El-Feki, Regional Director of the United Nations Program on AIDS, answers in her interview with BBC News Arabic: "These vulnerable groups are not isolated groups from society and are in contact with all other groups, and now we see the spread of the virus in different countries, especially among young people. Therefore, we are striving to spread awareness about the matter.”

Not only is the Middle East and North Africa region one of three regions with an increasing number of new HIV cases, the region also has the lowest HIV treatment coverage rate in the world.

According to the latest report by the United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), only 50% of people living with HIV in the Middle East and North Africa region have access to treatment. This number is lower for women, with a rate of no more than 44%, and for children, with only 40%.

While treatment is widely available, stigma around HIV is a barrier to people wanting to be tested or seeking treatment. As a result, only 67% of people living with HIV know they have it, according to the UNAIDS report.

The UN program warns that ineffective testing and suboptimal treatment lead to underdiagnosis, continued transmission of infection, delayed treatment and a high death rate.

Only 67% of people living with HIV know they have it

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