Yemen Times Examines HIV/AIDS Surveillance, Discrimination Related to Disease in Country

Although Yemen -- which has recorded 2,431 HIV/AIDS cases -- is considered one of the countries with the lowest number of people living with the disease worldwide, some organizations, including the country's National AIDS Control Program, say that the numbers likely do not accurately reflect the true number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, the Yemen Times reports. According to the Times, unreported cases and lack of surveillance could explain the low number of cases in the country.

The World Health Organization in 2003 estimated that unreported cases could bring the number of HIV-positive people in Yemen up to 24,000. In the first half of 2008, the National AIDS Control Program discovered 108 new HIV/AIDS cases, 94 of which were reported among citizens -- a fact that challenges the country's perception that the disease mainly affects foreigners and refugees -- the Times reports.

A 2007 report by Yemen's Public Health and Population Ministry in collaboration with Marie Stopes International that asked Yemenis if they knew of anyone living with HIV/AIDS found that 15% of both rural and urban residents said they knew of at least one HIV-positive person. However, the report also revealed a negative attitude toward the disease, with more than 50% of the 1,400 respondents saying that those living with HIV/AIDS should be "separated" from the rest of society.

Misconceptions and a lack of information about HIV/AIDS -- particularly among those living in rural areas, about three-fourths of Yemen's population -- are a significant reason for the discrimination against HIV-positive people, according to a Ministry of Public Health and Population report. Misconceptions included the belief that HIV can be transmitted through shaking hands, hugging and mosquito bites, as well as sharing drinking glasses and plates. Discrimination also has been reported in hospitals, with some hospitals refusing to treat HIV/AIDS patients altogether.

The Times also profiled Khalid Mahyoob -- a former nurse at Aden's Al-Jumhury Hospital who contracted HIV from an HIV-positive patient -- and his recently established association, called Life Impulse, which works to correct misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and fight discrimination (Ishaq, Yemen Times, 8/11).

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