In the Middle East, AIDS education and treatment are often hampered by ignorance and prejudice: A recent survey, for example, suggests 57% of Egyptian doctors believe HIV/AIDS could be contracted through a mosquito bite.
There are approximately 570,000 cases of HIV in the Middle East, 40% of them women. Of the men infected with HIV, it’s believed up to 70% are gay, but in heterosexual unions to hide their sexuality.
Because AIDS is seen as a Western disease, medical professionals receive little training in how to combat or treat it. Sometimes, though, the ignorance is willful:
Most Egyptian doctors refuse to treat HIV patients or to deliver their children. Egyptian officials continue to insist that there’s no AIDS problem there. To take action, they reason, would force the government to confront such taboo subjects as homosexuality, safe sex and what Muslim ethics say about how to treat the ill—however the disease is contracted.
“When the government becomes more religious, they believe AIDS is a punishment from God. But being religious starts with respecting human rights,” an Egyptian man who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when he was a child says. “We are not a part of the revolution. They isolated us. We did not isolate them.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the Middle East is one of the few regions of the world where infection rates are on the rise. “The world is talking about the beginning of the end of AIDS. We are not,” says Wessam not el Beih, the U.N.’s AIDS country director for Egypt.