The facts about HIV/AIDS can be a powerful weapon to thwart its spread. But in Lebanon, where statistics show most new HIV infections occur among people ages 20 to 30, getting the facts out can be difficult, experts say.
"We are having a sexual revolution in the midst of an AIDS epidemic," said Dr. Jacques Mokhbat, an infectious-disease specialist and founder of the Lebanese AIDS Society. Mokhbat diagnosed Lebanon's first HIV/AIDS case in 1984. In 1997, he convinced the Ministry of Health of the efficacy of triple-combination therapy and persuaded it to buy the drugs for patients. The ministry continues today to provide the drugs free of charge to patients.
Mokhbat said HIV/AIDS grew slowly in Lebanon at first. However, a dramatic increase occurred in the mid-1990s as refugees from the nation's civil war began coming home. The end of the 1990s saw a wave of infections involving men who have sex with men (MSM). Today, "the main driver of this epidemic is young heterosexual couples and MSM," Mokhbat said.
"Young people have always been an important target for us, but they are even more important now, because we've been encountering a younger age group being infected than ever before," said Dr. Mustafa Nakib, director of Lebanon's National AIDS Program (NAP).
As part of this renewed focus, NAP will collaborate with UNAIDS and the Regional Arab Network Against AIDS for an awareness event at the Jeux de la Francophonie Sept. 27-Oct. 6. In addition to informative pamphlets and media presentations, the outreach will include condom distribution and the opportunity to take a free, anonymous, rapid-result HIV test.