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Officials Discuss Increasing HIV/AIDS Incidence Among Women in Middle East, North Africa, Call for Action

February 24, 2005

More needs to be done to protect women in the Middle East and North Africa from HIV/AIDS, according to health officials meeting in Amman, Jordan, at a three-day conference sponsored by UNAIDS and the Jordanian government, BBC News reports. Although the HIV/AIDS incidence rate among women in the Middle East and North Africa is low compared with rates in other parts of the world, the incidence rate is rising among women in the region, according to BBC News. U.N. officials estimate that more than 500,000 HIV-positive people live in the region, BBC News reports. UNAIDS Associate Director Dr. Suman Mehta said accurate data are extremely difficult to collect because of HIV-positive women's reluctance to come forward. "(That) not a single one is coming forward to say, 'I am HIV-positive,' says something about the fear, the scare, the discrimination and stigma attached to AIDS," Mehta said. She added that HIV/AIDS will continue to be a problem in the region because women and girls have a lower social status than men, often experience rape and domestic violence and usually are unable to negotiate safe sex with their partners, BBC News reports. Dr. Hind Khattab, a public health specialist from Egypt, said that dispelling myths about sexuality is important in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the region, according to BBC News. "The most important thing to do is not to wait until we are in a dangerous situation and then do something," Khattab said. Health officials at the conference called for governments to provide comprehensive sex education -- including information about HIV prevention -- in schools and include HIV/AIDS treatment and care in general education and health care efforts (Gavlak, BBC News, 2/23).

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