Wednesday, 19 September 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar
MOBILE blood donation centers operating around the Corniche in Jeddah have discovered startling facts in recent weeks as they take blood samples from Saudis and non-Saudis: An estimated 25 percent of blood taken from random residents is infected with Hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS, Al-Hayat daily reported.
Most of those people testing positive for a blood disorder condition are young adults. They are aware of the dangers of becoming infected with HIV or AIDS and understand the ways to protect themselves. Our faith in Islam and its practices affords Saudi Arabia to have one of the lowest ratio of people infected with the disease. But it still happens. What's alarming, however, are the statistics of young people affected with Hepatitis C, which is usually acquired through living in unsanitary conditions. It appears that the Ministry of Health has now taken steps to launch an awareness program for Saudis and expatriates.
The most current statistics released by the Ministry of Health shows that as of 2006 there were a total of 11,520 HIV cases in the Kingdom - an estimated 2,658 cases among Saudis and 8,852 among non-Saudis. Infected men outnumber women 2-to-1, according to government figures. Infected adults between the age of 15-49 were estimated at 79.5 percent, while the total number of infected children was 6.4 percent.
In 2006 alone, 1,390 HIV cases were reported in the Kingdom.
Last month the ministry announced that it would enhance the current HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to include mosques in various cities and rural areas and to focus more on airports and markets. Universities also will be targeted. The current campaign is an extension of the program launched after last Ramadan.
It's also refreshing to hear reports from the Ministry of Health and medical authorities that people, who in the past have been reluctant to acknowledge AIDS, have expressed a keen interest in the program and are willing to be tested for the disease.
A doctor, Salem Maati Al-Harbi, told Asharq Al-Awsat last month that he received positive reactions from shoppers at markets or from visitors at the local recreational centers. There is a high demand for information, he told the newspaper. It appears that many of those testing for the disease completely renounced any idea that AIDS was a shameful disease. It also appears they are fairly well educated on the subject.
In addition, the Saudi government has recently announced that couples wishing to get married will now be required to undergo HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis testing as part of the mandatory premarital tests. If a bride or groom tests HIV positive and still wants to marry, the case would be transferred to the Justice Ministry for further review.
Clinics and testing centers also are being set up to increase testing and detection. Clinics are aimed primarily at Saudi citizens since expatriates undergo AIDS testing every time they renew their Iqamas (residence permits) and those found to be HIV positive are deported.
Saudi citizens who also test positive are referred to specialized AIDS treating centers. There are eight centers in Jeddah, Riyadh, Asir, Dammam, Jizan, Ahsa, Madina and Jouf.
The efforts by the Ministry of Health in spreading awareness and detecting the killing disease should be highly appreciated. However, there are still some more precautionary measures that should be taken by both citizens and officials. For instance, I was told recently that two dental clinics in a specialized hospital in Jeddah for treating infectious diseases, including AIDS, were closed for more than a year. The closure of these clinics has angered AIDS patients getting treatment there. That might sound okay in those countries where precautionary measures are taken by both people and dentists and where patients are willing to reveal their information to doctors. But, in our case, as we are still struggling to spread awareness among people, the closure of these clinics might contribute to the spreading of the disease especially in overcrowded public clinics and the small private ones which pay scant attention to precautionary measures.
We have to know that 25 percent of a random sample among a population of mostly youths is shocking and is something that should receive more attention from media as well as officials. It, unfortunately, did not happen. Each AIDS patient in the Kingdom costs the government almost SR100,000 annually. This quite high amount of money should go for developing the health sector in the country and to introducing more advanced health care centers. The whole issue, though, does not take more than a little amount of follow-up and more attention to save both our youth and our economy.