CAIRO: Egyptian actor Amr Waked was named the first UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa region by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.
“This is the first time for UNAIDS to have a Goodwill Ambassador and we are very optimistic [Waked] was chosen based on the work and effort he contributed to the cause during the past years,” said Hind Khattib, director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the Middle East and North Africa.
“When choosing Goodwill Ambassadors they don’t necessarily have to be actors but popular figures who have an active role in their society and who people listen to,” she explained.
In his role as Goodwill Ambassador, Waked will help raise awareness on issues related to AIDS and give greater voice to the needs of people living with HIV in the Middle East and North Africa and advocate for their rights.
He will also address the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV and key populations at increased risk of infection.
“I am given the chance to raise awareness regarding crucial health issue,” said Waked. “I hope I can live up to the responsibility and withstand the pain of it,” he added.
Waked was referring to the “pain” of seeing a person suffering from HIV. “Responsibility is all about the effort and pain, people try to avoid and so it wins but we have to face it in order to win it over,” he pointed out.
“Responsibility is all about the effort and pain, people try to avoid and so it wins but we have to face it in order to win it over,” he pointed out.
Waked noted that the “real victory” will be made through the media, with its ability to shape and influence public opinion in the MENA region.
“The problem at the moment in the region is that we lack awareness and information about HIV/AIDS and in turn we judge people with it and try to avoid them,” said Waked.
“HIV virus is like any other, like Hepatitis C for example which is prevalent in Egypt and we don’t fear it as with awareness everyone knows how to prevent it,” he said.
“Regarding HIV we need to know about it and prevent it and help its carrier, it’s not the virus which kills but the people around the patient who judge and avoid and don’t give any support,” he said.
Waked has participated in the Unite for Children against AIDS campaign with UNICEF. He has also contributed to the production of two docudramas on HIV, took part in UNICEF “Sotna,” or “Our Voice,” program with young people and helped mainstream HIV and Hepatitis C messages in his TV series “Lahazat Harega” or “Critical Moments.”
Rita Wahab, from Lebanon who works with the MENA Plus Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, pointed out that the virus needs to be constantly in the spotlight, not only “on World AIDS Day as that’s only one day and there are 364 days of silence.”
“We have to deal with it as it’s an existing problem not something coming in from the outside,” she added.
Wahab, who has been working in the HIV/AIDS domain for a number of years, said that she is continuously being asked if she has the virus because she works with people with HIV.
She also explained that people have to fear the virus not its carrier. “The person with the virus cares the most for the people and wants to protect them from it because they know the pain of having it especially in our society.”
Khattib said UNAIDS plans to work with policy makers over the coming period.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office, UNIAIDS and the World Bank are co-organizing a two-day meeting of high-level representatives from governments, the United Nations, civil society, the private sector and donors in Dubai on June 28–29.
They will be sharing the findings of the report “Characterizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa: Time for a Strategic Action” and mobilizing political commitment and donor support for more strategic investment in HIV prevention and care.
Furthermore, the UNAIDS will be working on getting resources to support their different programs, as well as getting the support of the different stakeholders and getting them to work together.
Khattib and Waked will be attending the meeting in Dubai and they are also planning a visit to Sudan in the near future.