CAIRO: The closing ceremony of the World Aids Campaign in Egypt was held Thursday in Zamalek’s Sawy Cultural Wheel.
Events and activities organized during the campaign, which ran under the slogan “For a positive life.be positive, were designed to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS in Egypt and, in particular, to dispel misconceptions about how the disease is transmitted.
UN Resident Coordinator James Rawley explained that such misconceptions are widely-held; he cited a survey which found that 50 percent of secondary school students are under the impression that HIV can be caught through drinking from the same glass as an infected person.
Even health professionals are misinformed about the ways by which it is possible to be infected with HIV.
Rawley told the audience that 20 percent of physicians in Egypt falsely believe that it is possible to contract HIV through insect bites, while 30 percent of nurses think that it can be caught by sitting on a toilet seat used by someone who has HIV.
While the incidence of AIDS in Egypt is currently low, Rawley said that the lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS needs to be addressed.
“Prevalence of AIDS is very low in Egypt – it currently stands at 1/10th of 1 percent. A number of high-risk factors threaten this however, he said.
Rawley cited the lack of awareness about AIDS in Egypt, the fact that sexual intercourse is taking place at increasingly younger ages and the lack of approachable testing and counselling services as factors.
Women and girls are at particular risk. “Girls and women are more liable to infection because of the lack of access to information about their reproductive rights, Rawley explained.
Deputy Minister of Health for Preventative Affairs and Primary Healthcare Dr Nasr El-Sayyed welcomed the World Aids Campaign, telling the audience that holding an event like this would have been unthinkable before.
“I wish we’d started this campaign 15 years ago, but in the 1980s there was a real stigma surrounding AIDS and resistance to discussing it openly, he said.
El-Sayyed told the audience that anti-retrovirals are now freely available to those living with HIV, and said that nine mobile testing centers offer anonymous testing.
A short film by Amr Salama was shown in which Egyptians living with HIV described their experiences and, in particular, the stigma and discrimination they suffer.
Commenting on the film, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Abol Naga pointed out that HIV is transmitted in exactly the same ways as Hepatitis C – through the exchange of blood or semen.
“We shouldn’t treat those ill with AIDS any differently to those suffering from Hepatitis C because both diseases are caught in the same way, he said.
Abol Naga spoke to an Egyptian man living with HIV over the telephone. The man, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that when he first found out he was ill he thought it was the end of the world.
“I thought I had two months left to live because I knew absolutely nothing about the disease, he said.
With treatment and support from family and friends the man said that he is now leading a normal life.
Prizes for fiction and journalistic writing were awarded in a creative art competition based around the theme of countering discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.
A photographic exhibit titled “Positive Living on display during the event featured striking photographs of people living with HIV and AIDS all over the world.
In some of the portraits people’s identities are shown while in others the subject has chosen an object which represents his or her relationship with the disease.
One HIV positive woman chose a picture of a child’s bicycle. Underneath the picture is written, “I want to show a bicycle because my daughter will now have all the fun of childhood.
Another picture shows a calendar which the subject ticks to keep track of taking daily dose of anti-retrovirals.
“I choose to show my daily drug adherence sheets. They are my chance to live, he explains in the caption.