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Saudi seeks to break AIDS taboo

In Jeddah, World AIDS Day will be marked Thursday by ambulances driving through the city handing out booklets "containing educational information about HIV," Sanaa Abbas Filemban, director of King Saud Hospital said.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2005 16:39 IST

Conservative Saudi Arabia, where nearly 11,000 cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported, is speaking out about the once-taboo subject, as government and UN bodies run awareness campaigns to fight the disease.

In Jeddah, World AIDS Day will be marked Thursday by ambulances driving through the Red Sea city handing out booklets "containing educational information about HIV and answering the most frequently asked questions," Sanaa Abbas Filemban, director of King Saud Hospital and coordinator of the HIV programme in the Jeddah region, said.

A health ministry official said the cumulative reported number of HIV-positive patients since the first case was diagnosed in Saudi Arabia in 1984 was 10,924, with Saudis numbering 2,005 and expatriates 8,919. One third have died.

The male-female ratio is three to one and most cases were in the western Jeddah and Mecca regions "because there are many expatriates there," ministry spokesman Khaled Marghlani said.

Statistics show that 1,111 people, including 262 Saudis, tested HIV positive in 2004.

However, Mayssam Tamim, programme coordinator for the UN Development Program (UNDP) who has run workshops on AIDS for teenagers in Riyadh, noted that many cases of HIV/AIDS go unreported, as happens in other countries, "because of the stigma attached to the disease and the fear of losing one's job."

Expatriates who suspect they are HIV-infected also fear being reported to the health ministry and deported if they test positive, she said.

First Published: Dec 02, 2003 17:39 IST