People living with HIV: pioneers in the HIV response in the Middle East and North Africa

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People living with HIV: pioneers in the HIV response in the Middle East and North Africa

16 November 2010

(From left to right): Zoheira Merah, an HIV activist and member of Al Hayat Association for People Living with HIV; UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Amr Waked; Hind Khatib, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Team for the Middle East and North Africa; Dr Walid Ammar, Director General of the Ministry of Public Health in Lebanon; Mr Elie Aaraj, President of the Regional/Arab Network Against AIDS; and Mr Moradi, a member of the Regional Resource Group for non-governmental organizations in the Middle East and North Africa. Credit: UNAIDS

HIV prevalence throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa remains low in the general population. In many settings, the epidemic is concentrated among key populations at high risk of infection, such as injecting drug users, men who have sex with men and sex workers. Exceptions to the general rule are evident in Djibouti, southern Sudan and parts of Somalia, where HIV prevalence now exceeds 1% among pregnant women in the general population.

Sixty participants from 18 countries across the Middle East and North Africa—including people living with HIV and UNAIDS Cosponsor organizations—gathered last week in Broumana, Lebanon, for a regional meeting focused on the empowerment of people living with HIV.

Supported by UNAIDS in collaboration with the Regional/Arab Network Against AIDS (RANAA), UNICEF, UNDP and USAID, the meeting focused on developing the leadership skills of people living with HIV with a view to advancing the vision of Zero new infections, Zero stigma and discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths. The participants pledged to strengthen coordination and partnerships with key actors, including government, civil society and faith-based organizations and the private sector.

Amireza Moradi, an HIV activist and participant in the meeting, applauded the efforts of people living with HIV in the region. “By our involvement as people living with HIV, we aspire to build a tolerant society,” he said.

A number of factors continue to hamper the HIV response in the Middle East and North Africa which can make people reluctant to access HIV services. These include stigma and discrimination, mandatory HIV testing, HIV-specific travel restrictions, human rights violations and gender inequalities. Although all countries in the region have established HIV treatment and care services, and provide treatment free of charge, the estimated coverage of treatment services is just 14%.

We are proud to be part of this positive movement in the region, and we will continue to support people living with HIV to have a louder voice

Hind Khatib, Director of UNAIDS Regional Team for the Middle East and North Africa

Despite challenges, there has been increasing commitment towards the HIV response in the region, as expressed through the Algiers’ declaration of people living with HIV in 2005, recommendations of a Tunisia regional meeting of people living with HIV in 2008 and a Dubai consensus statement on AIDS in 2010. In recent years, people living with HIV have made significant progress in organizing associations and advancing their rights.

Hind Khatib, Director of UNAIDS Regional Team for the Middle East and North Africa, reinforced the need to involve people living with HIV and key populations when developing HIV-related policies, strategies, and programmes as well as during implementation and monitoring and evaluation. “We are proud to be part of this positive movement in the region, and we will continue to support people living with HIV to have a louder voice,” she said.