(MENAFN - Arab News) An increase in the incidence of AIDS in some Arab countries is a cause for concern, because of its high mortality rate, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al- Rabeeah said.
Ziad Al-Memish, undersecretary to the Ministry of Health for Public Health read out Al-Rabeeah's message at the inauguration of the "Arab AIDS Initiative", held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh on Sunday.
Al-Memish said that a vulnerable group is being affected due to unhealthy social behavior. Under these circumstances, the minister stressed the importance of an Arab strategy to fight this disease, which could otherwise, take a serious toll on our communities.
On behalf of the health minister, Al-Memish opened a new website: www.nap.sa.com and launched a national strategy to fight AIDS in the Kingdom. He also urged the delegates to form a national strategy in their respective countries to fight the disease. The meeting was hosted by the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the Arab League and the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Al-Memish said the meeting, an initiative of the Saudi government, was organized to draft a clear road map to prevent AIDS and raise greater awareness in a culturally sensitive manner.
The undersecretary said that the incidence of AIDS in the Kingdom for the past two years has been kept at a steady rate due to the organized efforts of the Ministry of Health. "Through a mobile network campaign, we have been able to reach millions of subscribers, notifying them about the hazards of this disease," he said.
The mission of the National AIDS Program (NAP) is to prevent new HIV infections from occurring and working toward getting 'zero new infections, zero deaths and zero stigma and discrimination' in the Kingdom.
Under the program, NAP envisions every person living with HIV and AIDS in the Kingdom will have access to quality care and will be treated with dignity. It seeks the involvement of multisectorial partners in health and non-health sectors, civil society, people affected with HIV/AIDS and faith-based organizations to halt the further spread of HIV and to maintain low prevalence rates of HIV among vulnerable groups and the general population.
Speaking to Arab News, Sanaa M Filemban, director of the national AIDS Program in the MoH, pointed out that this is only a meeting to chalk out a plan to fight AIDS at regional and national levels. She said that the MoH is planning a national program from 2013 to 2017 to combat the disease in the Kingdom. She also said that the new website and the national program would go together in the fight against this dreadful disease.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world. The estimated number of adults and children living with HIV in the region increased from 320,000 in 2001 to 470,000 in 2010. The estimated number of adults and children newly infected with HIV grew from 43,000 in 2001 to 59,000 in 2010.
The Saudi Forum on uniting Arab countries to fight AIDS held in Riyadh in 2011 called on all Arab countries to review their national strategic plans and combat AIDS, while focusing on the human rights issues of people living with HIV. The forum also urged participating nations to expand and improve their AIDS support services, treatment centers and prevention campaigns.
Jan Beagle, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, and Laila Negm, delegate minister and head of the health and humanitarian department at the Arab League, also addressed the gathering. Both government and nongovernmental representatives attended the meeting from 22 Arab countries.