What you need to know about HIV/Aids in UAE

What you need to know about HIV/Aids in UAE

Dubai - Misconceptions about modes of transmission continue to exist among university students in the UAE, and vary by gender, nationality, marital status and level of study, according to the study.

By Asma Ali Zain

Published: Sun 4 Dec 2016, 4:58 PM

Despite the fact that young adults in the UAE are relatively well educated, with 80 per cent continuing to higher education, many of them still have insufficient information on HIV/Aids in general, a study has found.
Though students demonstrated some knowledge on the correct modes of transmission of HIV/Aids, many still believed that the disease could be caught from using public toilets, mosquito bites or touching an infected person.
On World Aids Day, which was marked globally on December 1, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for "Dignity above all." Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: "It is unacceptable that over 35 years into the epidemic, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV are still widespread among healthcare workers of all disciplines."
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"Contrary to medical ethics, people living with HIV often endure rejection and denial of healthcare for general conditions that are related or unrelated to their HIV infection. Such negative experiences deter those in need from seeking care and eventually their health deteriorates," he said.
The UAE study suggested that special attention should be given to Emirati students, especially males, who demonstrated the lowest level of overall knowledge scores on HIV/Aids.
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Misconceptions about modes of transmission continue to exist among university students in the UAE, and vary by gender, nationality, marital status and level of study, according to the study. Results were similar to what was reported previously in other studies from the region.
According to the study, 48 per cent of students have low knowledge on HIV which was 27 per cent lower than that reported in the UAE study that was carried out in 2007; which may indicate an increased level of awareness.
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The study titled Assessing Knowledge of, and Attitudes to, HIV/Aids among University Students in the UAE was published earlier this year and has been supported by the Ministry of Health and Prevention and Unicef. A total of 2,294 students (406 male; 1,888 female) took part of which 1,359 (59 per cent) were Emiratis and 47 other nationalities were represented, the most common being Syrian, Jordanian, and Palestinian.
Risk factors
The Middle Eastern region is among the top two regions in the world with the fastest growing HIV epidemic. In this context, many young people from the UAE travel widely and this, together with the rapid changes in cultural and religious values, all contribute to a heightened risk of HIV.
According to the UNAIDS Report 2014, more than 25,000 people got newly infected with HIV in 2013 marking a seven per cent increase between 2005 and 2013 and bringing the number of people living with HIV to 230,000. However, Aidscases remain low in the UAE.
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In the UAE, the first known study to estimate knowledge of HIV/Aids among young people was conducted in 2007 in Al Ain. A more recent study conducted in Ajman in 2013 investigated dental students' knowledge about modes of transmission of HIV/Aids and their attitudes towards patients being treated.
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Results also showed that students' overall knowledge score was only 67 per cent and that they had high levels of negative attitudes towards people with HIV. The survey included participants from four universities from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah and included both UAE nationals and non-nationals from both genders.
The study concluded that knowledge of the physical signs, cure and treatment of HIV/Aids was low and should be addressed in order to improve the negative image of the disease.
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In a conservative society, HIV/Aids is associated with taboos and the belief that HIV can only be transmitted though forbidden sexual relationships which further contributes to the stigmatisation of people living with the disease, it suggested.
It also recommended effective knowledge and education programmes mainstreamed across universities and schools in the UAE to prevent new HIV infections. 
Recently, the Unicef and health ministry have trained a group of 'Peer Health Educators' across a number of universities on raising awareness within their communities. The effectiveness in this programme is yet to be evaluated.
Low prevalence
According to the UAE Global Aids Response Progress Report 2014, the HIV situation in the UAE can be characterised as low prevalence. Till the end of 2012, a cumulative total of 780 HIV cases has been reported among UAE nationals: 591 males (75.8 per cent) and 189 females (24.2 per cent). The majority of HIV cases were found in the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah, reflecting the larger populations in those two emirates, as well as possibly higher levels of risk behaviours, as both cities may be more exposed to high-risk phenomena associated with HIV. In 2012, a total of 55 new HIV cases were reported among UAE nationals.
HIV patients in region unaware of their status
Globally, already 15 million people are accessing life-saving HIV treatment. New HIV infections have been reduced by 35 per cent since 2000 and Aids-related deaths have been reduced by 42 per cent since the peak in 2004. However, in the region, at the end of 2015, less than 20 per cent of people living with HIV knew their HIV status and only 14 per cent of them were receiving treatment.

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