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Aiding HIV Prevention

Aiding HIV Prevention

Issue 75 December 2010

AIDS is an universal killer affecting all societies. International HIV Fund explores its terrible effects.

 

The days leading up to 1st December 2010 were marked by a buzz of activity about a serious and growing global problem – one that has come to affect millions around the world, including Muslims. It needs to be addressed urgently by all communities if it is to be tackled: HIV and AIDS.

 World AIDS Day was first introduced on 1st December 1988 to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS, and fight against prejudice and stigma. Despite current efforts, the Muslim contribution in this pressing issue has been weak in comparison to other faith communities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated there are currently over 33 million people around the world living with HIV. A breakdown in statistics is equally alarming: the majority of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths occur in the developing world, with Sub-Saharan Africa the worst affected region, followed by South and South-East Asia. By 2009, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide and an estimated 15 million children across the globe have been left orphaned. It is clear that HIV not only kills individuals, but also destroys families and communities. Given the geographical scope of the virus, and its presence in most parts of the world, it is one of the biggest public health crises.

 So what exactly is HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus? It is a progressive virus that harms the body’s immune system, destroying healthy cells which fight infection. Although it is usually transmitted through unprotected sex and injected drug use, it can also be passed on inadvertently through contaminated medical equipment and from mother to baby. Eventually, the virus can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), where the body’s defence mechanisms are so weak it can no longer fight certain infections.

 Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions surrounding HIV, one of these being that it is not a ‘Muslim problem’. However, statistics show HIV is increasingly affecting Muslim populations. For instance, by the end of 2008 there were 310,000 people living with HIV in the Middle East & North Africa region, an increase of 110,000 from 2001. In the same year, there were an estimated 35,000 new cases of HIV infection in the region. Similarly, a country progress report by UNGASS in 2010 showed that Indonesia, which has a very large Muslim population, has approximately 314,000 people infected with the virus.

 Whilst prevalence rates are relatively low compared to other parts of the world, the actual rate of increase is on the rise. In Iran, for instance there are currently nearly 20,000 reported cases of HIV, though the actual figure is thought to be much higher. It is often difficult however to gauge the true scale of the problem in Muslim societies because of the lack of knowledge about hidden populations of drug users and people’s sexual conduct.

 A major part of the problem lies in the difficulty of addressing HIV in Muslim communities, including here in Britain, owing to the culture of shame surrounding the issue. This is largely due to the religious taboo surrounding the main ways that HIV is transmitted. However, if we are to tackle HIV then it is critical to break down barriers of stigma.

 The current lack of awareness amongst Muslims in Britain and elsewhere about HIV and the modes of transmission and prevention means those at risk, such as vulnerable women, young people, and persons engaged in high-risk behaviour may be unwittingly exposing themselves to what is a preventable infection. Furthermore, for those living or affected with HIV the social stigma and discrimination they face from the community serves only to impact negatively on their psychological wellbeing.

 In Islam, mercy and compassion are central to the relationship between members of the community and this should be illustrated in the approach to fighting AIDS. The blessed Prophet Muhammed said, “Be merciful to those on earth, so that the One above the heavens (God) will be merciful to you.” We should apply this teaching to all people. 

 Current government policies and community actions have proven to be insufficient in addressing the root causes of HIV and AIDS in Muslim societies. Faith leaders such as Imams have a tendency to believe that simply preaching about religious values are enough to protect people. Yet the growing rates of HIV in Muslim societies demonstrates this is failing, and suggests we need more collective intervention on the part of governments, NGOs, faith leaders, and civil society as a whole in order to promote a change in culture where people are more responsive to HIV. It is vital you play your part.

 

www.internationalhivfund.org

www.worldaidsday.org 




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