Over 400,000 people live with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Mediterranean, WHO warns
Regional, Health, 7/25/2001
"More than 400,000 people already live with HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Mediterranean Region," warned Hussein Gezairy, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, at the opening of the Eleventh Inter-country Meeting of National AIDS Program Managers held in Casablanca from July 23 to 26.
Addressing health officials in charge of AIDS and sexually transmitted disease control programs and delegates of non governmental organizations and other UN organizations and concerned partners, the WHO official stressed recognition of the AIDS Epidemic is a first and essential step for effectively responding to HIV/AIDS, emphasizing his belief that unless health systems become more responsive to HIV/AIDS, care and prevention efforts will remain limited in scope, coverage and quantity and will have no sustainability.
The Inter-country meeting, which is bringing together most Arab countries in addition to Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, is meant to design quicker and more effective interventions and respond to the global realities in HIV/AIDS. The last two years have witnessed rising global concern and renewed political momentum for combating HIV/AIDS, starting with the commitments made in Okinawa G8 Summit meeting in July 2000 and the convening of the UN General Assembly special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001. The 54th World Health Assembly Resolution of 21 May clearly calls for scaling up the response of HIV/AIDS in a comprehensive manner.
These global developments, as well as the changing scale and nature of the epidemic in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, have significant implications for the region which makes it important to take decisive action to enhance the preparedness of the health sector and produce more tangible results in combating HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
With 16 millions deaths from the disease worldwide, AIDS represents one of the most fatal diseases ever known. However, a decade after first cases were identified in the Region there is still no total government recognition of the epidemic. The prevalence rates of AIDS, though still low, show alarming trends. HIV is already a heavy burden in Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan.
Reviewing lessons from the past in order to deliver meaningful and more effective interventions, the Regional Office has deployed serious efforts in the last two years to develop the HIV/AIDS and STD regional strategic plans. To this effect, it has initiated an analysis of the situation and reviewed and updated key prevention and care strategies to be better adapted to the Region and the changing realities of the epidemic.
Because AIDS is a communicable disease, it poses a public health problem that requires strong public health response. At this critical turning point of the epidemic in many countries of the Region, the Regional Office calls for taking stock of established services and health programs and systems that have proven their efficacy, such as primary health care, school health education, reproductive health and innovative educational interventions for youth, including life skills education and others. In addition, religious teachings and fostering stability and early family life in younger generations are very important.
Discussions during the Eleventh inter-country meeting for National AIDS Managers will help in developing and updating the strategic regional plan of action for HIV/AIDS to be endorsed by health ministers in the forthcoming 48th session of the Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean in October 2001.
Expounding the Moroccan case, health minister Thami El Khyari said Morocco has devised an anti-HIV/Aids and STD's program since the first HIV case was reported in 1986 and is currently negotiating with major laboratories to get low-cost drugs. Regarding prevention, he said Morocco is working in collaboration with all concerned governmental and non-governmental institutions to set forth public awareness and popularization programs while the health ministry is working on programs targeting most affected regions.
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