By Youssef Aziz
The number of Egyptians who died from HIV/AIDs doubled between 2005 and 2013, rising from 500 to 1,000, according to a new report from UNAIDS.
Egypt’s first case of AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, was detected in 1986. Since 1990, the number of cases has climbed by 286%, reaching around 14,000 cases in 2012, UNAIDS reported.
Egypt’s death rate is one of the fastest rising in the region, but the country’s AIDS-related deaths still only represent about 3% of total deaths in the Middle East and North Africa.
Across the MENA region, about 15,000 people died of AIDs-related causes in 2013, which is a 66% increase from 2005. In the region, 30% of AIDS-related deaths occurred in Iran, 21% occurred in Sudan and 17% took place in Somalia.
The ratio of male to female cases is 4:1. HIV/AIDS is most common among prisoners, street children, drug users and sex workers, according to NAP (National AIDS Programme). More than 71% of the cases were transmitted through sexual intercourse, but the virus can also spread in other ways, including through blood transfusion and unhygienic cosmetology or dental work.
In Egypt, where 95% of the population is Muslim and premarital sex is a taboo, families often look down on victims as “shameful”, rather than being compassionate – even if the disease was not contracted through sexual intercourse, said Doctor Ahmed Khamis, Egypt country coordinator for UNAIDS.
Instead of treating the patient, families may try to hide their “shame” by keeping their condition a secret until it’s too late, or they may even get rid of their children, he said.
The disease, caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can be transmitted by any contact of a carrier’s body fluid. An infected individual can remain without symptoms for up to 10 years, as the disease slowly attacks the immune system, making it vulnerable and susceptible to almost any kind of infection. There is also no known cure for HIV, only medications that reinforce the immune system.
Medication to treat HIV/AIDS varies in price, with an average cost of $1,000 per month, Khamis said. However, through the Ministry of Health, patients can obtain free treatment.
Still, less than 20% of infected Egyptians have access to treatment, UNAIDS reported.
A number of non-governmental organisations, such as UNAIDS, are cooperating with the Egyptian government to spread awareness about the disease and encourage voluntary laboratory tests for early detection.