JORDAN: AIDS high-risk groups must be controlled, says senior official

Photo: Maria Font de Matas/IRIN
The distribution and use of condoms is the most effective way to prevent AIDS among high-risk groups, health workers say.
AMMAN, 30 November 2006 (PlusNews) - Despite the low prevalence of AIDS in Jordan, the existence of vulnerable groups that could become infected with the virus and the difficulty in tracking them are the biggest challenges for the country’s new strategy on AIDS, a senior health official said.

“If we do not control high-risk groups such as sex workers, men having sex with other men and injecting drug users - which exist in Jordan, but are hidden - we might face an HIV epidemic in the future,” Dr Ali Ass’ad, Secretary General of the Ministry of Health and Director of the National AIDS Programme, said during the launch of Jordan’s national strategy for AIDS on Wednesday.

The launch came just ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December.

Ass’ad pointed out that so far no monitoring mechanism for those vulnerable groups has been effective. “The problem is that we do not know whether sex workers and homosexuals use the condoms we distribute to them or whether drug injecting users share syringes,” he said.

“That is why the activities of the new strategy will focus on trying to monitor those high-risk groups and in general look at the prevention aspects of HIV/AIDS,” Ass’ad added.

Other sectors of the population referred to by health specialists as ‘risk groups’ and to whom HIV/AIDS prevention will be taught include military staff, health and social workers, young students going abroad, drivers, tourist workers and refugees.

Since the first AIDS case appeared in Jordan in 1986, the country has registered a total of 485 reported cases, of which 169 were Jordanians. Of the Jordanians, 76 have died and 93 are still alive, 44 of which are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy.

In Jordan, antiretroviral therapy is provided to all HIV/AIDS sufferers free of charge in all of the country’s public hospitals, health officials said.

However, the Ministry of Health estimates that up to double the reported cases of HIV/AIDS exist in the country.

The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) believes that there could be more than 1,000 cases. “There is a problem and we believe it is bigger than what is estimated [by the health ministry],” Dr Sana Naffa, UNAIDS Jordan technical coordinator, said.

According to UNAIDS, the most common modes of transmission in cases reported in Jordan in recent years are heterosexual sex, followed by blood transfusions and mother to child transfusions, homosexual sex and injecting drug users.

HIV/AIDS programme managers in Jordan say that one of the major problems they in trying to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS preventative actions is the conservative nature of Jordanian society. Breaking taboos by raising sensitive issues such as sexual practices is something they have to overcome every day. In addition, changing perceptions of HIV/AIDS sufferers among health and social workers at hospitals and prisons is equally difficult.

“To raise the issue of the use of condoms through television commercials, for instance, has been very complicated,” Dr Adel Belbasi, Secretary General Assistant for Primary Health Care in the Ministry of Health, said. “The social stigma and discrimination that HIV/AIDS patients perceive from health and social workers can seriously affect their quality of life,” he added.


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