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here are two ways to go about

Talking AIDS with your Kids
doing a story. Access avail-
able information and build
an article on that. The second
is building an article on the lack of This is why you need to roll up your sleeves, drop your inhibitions and stop minc-
information. ing words with your kids.
To observe the month of AIDS Aware- One study shows that 25 percent of all new HIV infections are in young people
ness (December), this piece does both. It under the age of 22. So have that “sex talk” with your adolescent sooner than

later. Stress that abstinence is the only 100 percent prevention, but power them
is first an article about HIV/AIDS, You
with knowledge.
and What You Should Know. About three million teens contract a sexually transmitted disease each year, and
It is also an article about What We talking to your child will help bring that number down, one child at a time.
Don’t Know – about the Bubble We It is crucial, but not easy. Here is a 10-point approach towards frank discus-
Live In. sion on HIV/AIDS with your teen or pre-teen.
A couple of years ago, a local Arabic

daily carried a full page first person ac- 1. Before starting any conversation, know what information you want to give
count of an HIV infected Qatar resident. your child and how you want to present it.
2. Review the facts about HIV & AIDS prior to talking with your child. It is es-
He blamed his plight on lack of aware-
sential that you give them accurate and current HIV information.
ness and the continuing denial that 3. To get the ball rolling, find a common starting point that both you and your
HIV/AIDS could be a problem here. child are comfortable with. Examples of this include research for a school project,
And that was the end of that story – at topics of television programs and commercials, current event news from maga-
least in public view. zines of newspapers or a comment made by a celebrity.
4. Be honest with your child. If you are uncomfortable with the subject matter


Do we believe that that was the
beginning and end of the STD (Sexu- chances are they are too. Share your feelings with them. The feelings of you both
ally Transmitted Diseases) saga in the can become a common link that will make the discussion easier.
5. Be positive and not punitive. If the child senses your discussion is a lecture or
a reprimand, they are most likely to tune out.
The levels of complacency and denial 6. Listen to what they have to say and encourage them to share their thoughts
amongst people in the region is frighten-

The Cold,
and feelings.
ing, to put it mildly. 7. While it might be hard not to judge, try and understand your child’s point of
Having participated in HIV/AIDS view. Even if you don’t agree or share the same opinion, allowing them to express
awareness campaigns in college, and hav- theirs without judgement is essential to getting your message across.
ing covered and written about the issue 8. Be prepared to hear things you may not want to hear from your child such as

Hard Facts
of HIV/AIDS in India (with amongst the their thoughts about sex and past sexual encounters.
9. Acknowledge the difficulties of peer pressure. Urge your child to use their
highest populations of infected people in
own judgement when making difficult decisions.
the world) for over six years, the attitude 10. Provide them with educational material or web sites where they can learn
in Qatar is a dreaded echo of what I saw in private. They may be more comfortable with this type of learning which will
back in the sub-continent. improve their retention and understanding of the subject matter.
Development indicators apart, socially
and culturally the sub-continent and the
Gulf share far too many similarities: con-
servative, family-oriented societies where largely escaped the global AIDS epi- and history, University of Illi-
problems are tackled first by brushing it demic. UNAIDS (Joint United Nations nois-Chicago and the founder
under the carpet, then with a knee-jerk Programme on HIV/AIDS) reports that of the Global Network of
reaction, and finally with thought. at the close of 2003, there were 480,000 Researchers on HIV/AIDS in
India was forced to face increasing adults and children living with HIV/ the Middle East and North
infections and AIDS-related deaths, and AIDS in the Arab world, Iran, Israel Africa.
begin a campaign to control and prevent and Turkey. Compared to sub-Saharan “UNAIDS estimates that 75,000
its spread. Africa, where there are approximately 25 people from the Middle East and North
Fortunately for Qatar things have not million cases, or South and Southeast Africa were newly infected with HIV/
come to such a head. But it well may, Asia, where there are approximately 6.5 AIDS in 2003 alone, while 24,000 adults
if we continue to bury our head in the million, this number is tiny – about one and children died from the disease in the
desert sands. percent of the world’s caseload. same year. Moreover, the quality of the
But this low number offers no cause available data is seriously lacking. No
AIDS and the Middle East for celebration, says Sandy Sufian, an country in the Middle East and North
The Middle East and North Africa have assistant professor of medical humanities Africa conducts systematic surveys of
December 2005 44 december 2005 45
health&fitness health&fitness
groups at high risk of infection. As a
consequence, the UNAIDS estimate of
the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in Religious leaders roped in Should I Get
the region lies within a very broad range
of possible cases, from 200,000 to 1.4
million people,” she points out.
A couple of months ago, a sub-regional workshop in Yemen discussed the role of
religious leaders in HIV/AIDS prevention.
Breaking the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS is a prerequisite for understanding the
If you think you might have been
true scope of the problem and therefore becoming more capable of addressing it. exposed to HIV, you should get tested
AIDS in Qatar Distinguished religious leaders from Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan dis- as soon as possible. Here’s why:
The Gulf states have also begun to ad- cussed ways to enhance their role in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. * Even in the early stages of infec-
dress HIV/AIDS, according to the same The workshop capitalised on the work of the previous regional meeting of tion, you can take concrete steps to
UNAIDS reports. religious leaders in Cairo in December 2004 which reviewed the first draft of the protect your long-term health. Many
Guide. The Guide was designed to assist religious leaders from across the region in physicians still recommend a “hit early
Oman reports collaboration among
contributing more effectively to the fight against HIV/AIDS. and hit hard” approach to anti-HIV
many sectors of society and boasts of a therapy.
The four-day workshop was jointly organised by the Regional Programme on
National AIDS Technical Committee HIV/AIDS for Arab States (RPHAS) of the United Nations Development Programme * But even if you don’t begin taking
and a National AIDS Health Education (UNDP), the Steering Committee of the Religious Leaders Initiative to Combat HIV/ medications right away, regular check-
Committee. The government does not AIDS in the Arab World and UNDP’s office in Yemen. ups with a doctor who has experience
promote sex education for young people The workshop brought together imams, lecturers and religious leaders from the with HIV/AIDS will enable you (and
due to “cultural and religious traditions,” four participating countries. It sensitised these religious authorities to basic facts your family members or loved ones)
although condoms are provided free of about the disease, the causes of its spread, the symptoms and implications of the to make the best decisions about how
disease. Moreover, some statistical data about the spread of the virus at both the and when to begin treatment, without
charge at supermarkets, family planning The Qatar page on UNAIDS website
international and regional levels were shared with participants. waiting until you get sick.
clinics and private pharmacies. * Taking an active approach to man-
In his statement during the opening of the workshop, Sheikh Yahya Al-Najjar, the mated by UNAIDS in the Middle will somehow avert an
Saudi Arabia has established an Deputy Yemeni Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs, stressed the impor- aging HIV may give you many more
East and North Africa, approximately HIV/AIDS epidemic.
HIV/AIDS Health Education Com- tance of the role of religious leaders in establishing moral and safe behaviours, years of healthy life than you would
220,000 were women. Young people But, in the words of the
mittee that includes governmental and thereby sparing communities from the scourges of epidemics. He also emphasised otherwise have.
form an at-risk group because of their report, “low prevalence * If you are HIV-positive, you will be
non-governmental agencies. It has not, the necessity to treat HIV-positive as patients, regardless of the initial cause of their
infection, as a cornerstone in all humane and religious Islamic principles. Equally common risk-seeking behaviours like does not equate to low risks.” able to take the precautions neces-
however, integrated the HIV/AIDS issue
important, to Al-Najjar, is the central goal of breaking the silence surrounding HIV/ taking drugs, having multiple sex Current scientific knowledge about sary to protect others from becoming
into general development plans.
AIDS which is a prerequisite for understanding the true scope of the problem and partners or sexually experimenting, HIV/AIDS transmission shows that once infected.
The Saudis have instituted health
therefore becoming more capable of addressing it. and failing to use condoms. Scientific infection rates exceed “a certain thresh- * If you are HIV-positive and
programmes for at-risk populations pregnant, you can take medications
“It is important to preserve the unique spiritual values of this region,” Khadija evidence has shown that individuals with old, the virus spreads very fast, some-
and reproductive and sex education Mulla, the Regional Coordinator of RPHAS indicated at the opening of the work- and other precautions to significantly
sexually transmitted infections also have times increasing by as much as tenfold in
programmes in schools. Saudi Arabia shop. Mulla pointed out that reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region reduce the risk of infecting your
increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS. five years as has been the case in several
also supplies anti-retroviral therapy for requires bold and timely action “to prevent diseases from turning into serious epi- infant, including refraining from
Strong taboos attached to HIV/AIDS southern African countries.” breast-feeding.
infected pregnant women. demics”. She also warned against treating the disease as if it is a Godly punishment
for committed sins – a common myth to which many religious leaders in Muslim in the Middle East and North Africa Calculating that threshold is com-
But here is the spin on Qatar. Accord-
countries were trapped. Furthermore, Mulla reiterated that the region is in a race make it hard to measure the scope of the plicated. According to Joan MacNeil,
ing to the report, the government pro-
with the disease, with trends pointing towards increased number of cases in the problem and plan accordingly. Extreme senior HIV/AIDS Specialist for the
vides limited programmes like screening
future if complacency is to dominate at this stage. Finally, she called upon religious stigma not only marginalises those who Global HIV/AIDS Programme of The
of HIV patients’ families, tuberculosis
leaders to reach out by all possible means to the most vulnerable segments of the are HIV-positive but also inhibits people World Bank Group, an epidemic thresh-
patients, school lectures and anti-retrovi- society to the disease. from going for testing in the first place. old is reached when enough critical mass
ral therapy but does not have a compre- The workshop provided a forum for discussion on the role of religious leaders in
hensive, multi-sectoral programme or a of risk behaviours and contributing
changing behaviours and thus, social environments to become better equipped to
Assumptions and Denials biological factors exists in a population
coordinating agency. combat the disease, to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS are not isolated,
excluded or subjected to discrimination or deprivation from inalienable human and According to a 2003 World Bank to sustain an epidemic.
They do pre-screen foreign labour for
religious rights. report, probably the most substantial “This is described scientifically by the
the virus upon entry to the country as
research document on HIV/AIDS in concept of reproductive rate, which is
well as new army recruits, but they do
Women and AIDS the Middle East and North Africa, the the number of new infections generated presence of other sexually transmitted
not screen pregnant women. Stigma risk for HIV/AIDS contrac-
In western countries, women are four assumption of low rates of infection has by each current infection. The threshold infections...”
associated with HIV/AIDS and at-risk tion because of their fre-
times more likely to contract HIV led governments to dismiss the disease is exceeded when the reproductive rate At base, the threshold is usually
populations remains a major problem, quently weakened negotiating
through vaginal sex with infected males as an insignificant problem or exhibit exceeds one. This means that, if infected designated as, and equal to, a 5 percent
according to the UNAIDS report. power in sexual relations with
than vice versa. This biological vulner- complacency in taking action. Many individuals, on average, infect more than infection rate in most countries. If gov-
When Woman Today tried drawing their husbands to practice safe
ability is worsened by social and cultural governments faced with pressing crises of one additional person in their lifetimes, ernments delay action, scholars believe
comments and collecting local data, it sex (who may also be having sex
factors that often undermine women’s housing, employment and education see the epidemic will be sustained and grow. the trend witnessed in other regions
drew a blank. Even the Hamad Medical with female sex workers or with
ability to avoid sex with partners who are HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment as However, the threshold can be influ- will likely recur in the Middle East and
Corporation website did not return any men) as well as their relative lack of
HIV-infected or to insist on condom use. low priority. Other governments believe enced by the size of risk populations, North Africa.
data for search on HIV/AIDS and other knowledge about the HIV/AIDS virus.
Women worldwide are particularly at that social and cultural conservatism type and frequency of risk behaviour, – By Vani Saraswathi
STDs. Of the 480,000 infected people esti-
December 2005 46 december 2005 47