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ISRAEL-OPT: Low infection rates but condoms still needed

Photo: Feroz Noman/IRIN
Condoms are available through planned parenting programmes
JERUSALEM, 10 July 2008 (PlusNews) - In spite of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said they were still allowing condoms into the enclave as part of efforts by UN agencies and Palestinian organisations to keep family planning and disease prevention programmes going.

While some were concerned at first that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip about a year ago would affect these programmes, such fears have proved to be largely unfounded.

"Condoms are available through planned parenting programmes, run by international and local agencies," said an aid worker with an international agency in the enclave.

Although the government's programmes generally only offer contraceptives for married couples or others in special circumstances, such as people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), condoms are available in shops and public places, even if somewhat less easily than a year ago.

The trick, experts say, is to keep up the education programmes, particularly on HIV-related issues, so that those who require contraceptives know they need to use them.

The oPt's current infection rate is very low: only 36 Palestinians are known to be living with HIV/AIDS, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Altogether, there have been 61 recorded cases of HIV/AIDS in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since 1987, with five times as many men infected as women. Israel's tight control over the Palestinian borders serves to minimise infection rates, experts said.

''The trick, experts say, is to keep up the education programmes, particularly on HIV-related issues, so that those who require contraceptives know they need to use them''
In February this year the Palestinian Authority announced that all ARVs would be part of the national drug list and available for free. Its National HIV/AIDS and TB Prevention Committee also works in coordination with a national education committee, various ministries, NGOs and UN agencies, to develop educational plans.


"We conduct monthly meetings on HIV and plan educational campaigns," Asad Ramlawe from the ministry of health's HIV/AIDS and TB department, told IRIN/PlusNews, adding that the ministry of religion was also included in the committee.

"We are trying to educate parents, and to work with religious leaders," said Ziad Yaish, a Jerusalem-based advocacy officer with an international development agency, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), who employs TV and radio spots to reach his audiences, particularly vulnerable young people.

In a conservative society, working hand-in-hand with religious leaders would bring about the best results and help allay any concerns they might have about programmes, such as family planning, experts have said.

An official involved in educational efforts in the West Bank said appearances could be deceptive: while some cities might appear more liberal, based on dress codes and open social behaviour, this did not always mean they were open to sex education.

"I found it easier to work in Jenin, a conservative town, than in Ramallah [which is perceived as more liberal]," said the official, adding that living in out-of-the-way areas left people less informed, and more curious and eager for information.

Organisations like the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA) train "peer educators" - older high school and university students who are taught by professionals in how to reach out to their friends and inform them about the risks involved in growing up.

"We focus on 16-to-18-year-olds and university students, especially those who will go abroad to study," said Amina Stavridis, the director of the PFPPA.


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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