June 30, 2010
The World Bank, WHO and UNAIDS on Monday released a joint report that pulls together data characterizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic from 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, IRIN reports (6/30).
Prior UNAIDS estimates had placed the number of people living with HIV in the region at about 412,000 at the end of 2008, "up from about 270 000 in 2007. However, to date, a lack of reliable data has hindered a clear understanding of HIV dynamics and trends in the region," according to a UNAIDS press release (6/30).
"The new report ... summarizes the findings of the largest scientific study on HIV/AIDS in the history of the MENA region, providing the first comprehensive scientific assessment of the spread of HIV in MENA across different population groups and the various countries of the region," Al Bawaba reports.
"The evidence gathered indicates that, with the exception of Djibouti, Somalia and Southern Sudan, HIV transmission in the general population of MENA is limited and amongst the lowest worldwide," the news service writes. "However, pockets of HIV transmission exist all over MENA in specific populations. HIV infections are found among networks and contacts of injecting drug users (IDUs), men who have sex with men (MSM), and female sex workers (FSWs) and their clients. In MENA, men practice most of the high-risk behaviors, and the majority of women acquire their infection from their infected spouses," according to Al Bawaba (6/29).
The report also found that while "all countries in the region are providing antiretroviral medications free of charge, most are falling far short of the goal of universal access to treatment. At the end of 2008, only 14% of the estimated 68,000 in need of treatment were accessing it," according to UNAIDS (6/29).
IRIN provides a breakdown of the varying patterns of HIV transmission in several countries, as described in the report. "[D]espite all the information from different sources that the new report brings together, the region still does not have enough data to form a coherent strategy to tackle HIV/AIDS," IRIN adds. "The report conceded that the MENA region 'continues to be viewed as the anomaly in the HIV/AIDS world map,'" according to the news service.
The article includes comments by Hind Khatib, regional director of UNAIDS, who addresses the need for governments to invest in surveillance systems to help track the epidemic in these regions (6/30).
The report was released during a two-day policy dialogue organized by the WHO, World Bank and UNAIDS in Dubai, the UNAIDS press release notes (6/29). "In a regional consensus statement agreed at the closing of the conference yesterday, countries vowed to develop evidence-informed multi-sectoral strategic plans and strengthen all their coordination, planning, implementation and monitoring of any AIDS strategies," the National reports. "They also agreed to improve services available to at-risk groups and anyone with HIV/AIDS by offering 'free and equal access to treatment, care and support for all those in need,'" according to the newspaper (Underwoord, 6/30).