Yemenis still reject people living with HIV

27 Sep

By: Malak Shaher, Yemen Times

Four years ago when the AIDS Association was established in Al-Raqas neighborhood, stones were thrown at the building, said Ali Al-Alkami, a social activist at the association.

The people of Yemen need an awareness campaign, explained Al-Alkami, because they still reject people living with HIV. They believe that HIV and AIDS are transmitted through illegal sex, forbidden in Islam.

On Monday, Progressio and USAIDS held a workshop on HIV and AIDS and the rights of people living with the virus, with 25 participants from the private sector and the government.

“One of the impacts of AIDS worldwide – other than the infection – is the stigma and the discrimination that affects the social integrity of that person,” said Wondimu Guyassa, Progressio coordinator in Yemen.

“HIV is not only a problem of health but it is also a social problem.”

Progressio is a health organization that started its work in Yemen in 1974, expanding into the field of HIV and AIDS in 2005.

HIV is not transferred through social contact, shaking hands, living together, eating from the same dish, going to school or working together and playing, said Dr. Sameer Jubari, a coordinator from the Interaction Company for Development, which works with the UNHCR.

He explained that HIV can only be transmitted through direct interaction with infected blood, vaginal fluids or semen, or through breast feeding.

An earlier workshop was conducted for preachers in mosques in order to spread awareness to fight the stigma against those living with HIV.

“HIV is not only a health problem in Yemen, it is also related to the society, as Yemenis reject infected people and ignore the fact that these young people are still part of society and can be productive,” said Fawzya Gharama, UNAIDS representative in Yemen. “We should not neglect these people since the more people that hide their infection, the greater the increase of infected people in Yemen.”

The first HIV case appeared in Yemen in 1987 and the number of the people with HIV is now approaching 3,000, according to the World Health Organization.

In 2009, the Yemeni parliament approved a law to protect the rights of people living with HIV.

“However, the law is not practiced and people with HIV are not treated well by their society,” said Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim from the Ministry of Endowments who took part in the workshop.

In Yemen Almost 80 percent of women get the virus from their husbands and a large number of those women are prevented from visiting a hospital because of the stigma of having HIV, according to Ibrahim.

Some 17 associations have been established in Yemen to help people with HIV – the AIDS Association in Al-Raqas neighborhood is one of them with other three branches in the governorates of Aden, Hadramout and Hodaida, according to Al-Alkami.

They are currently dealing with 380 HIV cases, he said, most of which are people abandoned by their families and societies once they were discovered to have the infection.

The head of the association Fu’ad Al-Sabri mentioned the case of a family – a husband and his wife – who were rejected from their neighborhood after they were found to have the virus. They moved into another area, but people from their previous neighborhood told the couple’s new neighbors, continuing the stigma they faced.

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