Workshop Planned To Create AIDS Awareness

RIYADH, 19 November 2004 — Saudi Arabia will host an AIDS workshop on International AIDS Day on Dec. 1 as part of efforts to increase public awareness about the disease and to ensure more care and dignity for patients suffering from it. This will be the first workshop of its kind in the Kingdom to discuss various aspects of the disease in an open forum, a change of approach on the part of the state-owned health institutions.

“This first AIDS workshop, to be organized here in cooperation with King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSH&RC), seeks to increase awareness about the disease and how to diagnose, treat and offer support to the patients suffering from AIDS/HIV,” said Dr. Abdullah Al-Hokail, chairman of the Workshop Organizing Committee. The move is significant keeping in view the increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Kingdom. About 6,800 cases of HIV/AIDS have already been reported in Saudi Arabia, of which about 22 percent are Saudis. The figure is five times more than the 1,285 HIV/AIDS cases reported by the Ministry of Health in mid-2002. About 45 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases in the Kingdom are sexually transmitted and about 77 percent of those infected are male. According to a report from the Ministry of Health, most of the victims are aged between 15 and 45. Forty-one percent of the cases are in Jeddah.

Spelling out the details of the AIDS workshop, Dr. Al-Hokail said discussions at the conference would cover epidemiology of HIV/AIDS, HIV among women in the Kingdom, identification and diagnosis of the disease and the national AIDS program. The workshop, to be held at the KFSH’s Postgraduate Center auditorium, will help to map out preventive measures and a strategy to deal with the growing number of cases.

Al-Hokail, however, said that the growth of this disease in the Kingdom is not as alarming as in many other countries. “Though many countries have achieved good results in reducing the number of infections it is unfortunate that the incidence is on the rise in most developing countries especially the Middle East,” he said. “In Saudi Arabia there were some encouraging moves recently and more realistic figures have been released, but still we are too far from reaching the minimum requirement in dealing with this major problem,” said the chairman.

He further pointed out that there were no structured educational programs and that the disease itself was considered a taboo subject both by the public and the officials in the Kingdom.

The qualified Health Care Workers (HWC) dealing with the disease is very few compared with the number of cases, he said. He hoped that special conferences and workshops will help create more public awareness about HIV/AIDS.

In 1984, the Ministry of Health started a program for registering all AIDS patients hoping to check the spread of the disease.

It recently announced plans to set up three specialized laboratories in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to study and evaluate AIDS cases reported all over the country. Expatriate workers found infected with HIV/AIDS are immediately deported.

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