New initiative launched to combat HIV/AIDS

The new ambitious plan will help develop national and regional capacities to fight the disease and ensure closer coordination among member states of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to increase measures for prevention, treatment and care.
After launching the so-called “Saudi initiative to combat AIDS in GCC countries,” Minister of Health Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said the project calls for an intensified collaborative approach as the disease poses a real threat to the region’s long-term growth.
“The GCC countries will work closely to produce recommendations that will help prepare a roadmap for combating AIDS,” explained Rabeeah, while referring to the Kingdom’s firm commitment to fight the disease.
The launching ceremony at the Faisaliyah Hotel was attended by a large number of GCC, UN and World Health Organization officials, Saudi experts and international consultants, including Regional Director of WHO Eastern Mediterranean Office Dr. Hussein A. Al-Jazaeri and Director General of the Executive Office of the GCC Council of Ministers of Health Dr. Tawfiq Khoja.
Al-Rabeeah pledged to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS incidence in the region to nearly nothing in the foreseeable future. “We think that we can do better and better in the GCC in terms of containing this fatal disease in cooperation with the World Health Organization and with the help of the international community.” He added that HIV is more prevalent among expatriates in Saudi Arabia.
He said the Kingdom was probably the only country to report a 9 percent decrease in the number of HIV/AIDS cases this year compared to the year before, although he did not give any figures.
According to a report, 15,213 cases of HIV and AIDS among Saudis and expatriates have been reported in the Kingdom so far. The first case was reported in the Kingdom in 1984.
Al-Rabeeah, however, admitted that the incidence rate is slightly alarming on a regional level, especially in the 21 countries in the eastern Mediterranean region.
“In Saudi Arabia, a national program to combat HIV and AIDS is already in place,” said Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish, adding that the ministry has set up eight special voluntary screening centers to examine patients or suspected cases in different cities.
Khoja said the incidence of AIDS in GCC states was the lowest in the eastern Mediterranean region.
He added it was high time to work out mechanisms to achieve the best ways and means to combat the spread of the virus, as well as mobilize resources to provide the best possible health care to AIDS patients in the GCC countries.
Khoja stressed the importance of Islamic laws in GCC countries that are instrumental in preventing extra-marital relations, drug abuse and many other social evils. By the end of last year, there were about 590,000 HIV cases in the eastern Mediterranean region including the GCC, with about 5 percent of them receiving retroviral treatment.
“Recent evidence suggests that the prevalence of HIV and AIDS is increasing in the Middle East, and eastern Mediterranean region,” said Al-Jazaeri.
He said that more than 50,000 people get infected each year in the region. A large number of cases are spread by what he called “forbidden sexual relations”. Infected women represent 29 percent of reported cases in the region.

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