World AIDS day falls every year on 11 December, and Egypt marked the event by shedding more light on the most recent endeavors to fight the condition and support people living with HIV.
A campaign launched by Egypt titled ‘Know...test... we will be by your side’ was the result of cooperation between the National AIDS Programme (NAP), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Population, and the UNAIDS office in Egypt.
The campaign is part of efforts that have been successful in previous years in mobilising different parties to raise awareness and combat the negative stigma that still prevails around the disease.
UNAIDS Egypt country manager Dr Ahmed Khamis shed light on recent facts and data about the disease.
"The prevalence of HIV in Egypt is a mere 0.02 percent, with the number estimated at 16,000. This makes Egypt a low-prevalence country; nevertheless, and according to the UNAIDS database, there is a significant increase in the number of new cases, and the number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) is six times higher than it was in 2000," he said.
Khamis clarified that the problem with HIV is that a person carrying the virus can be ignorant about his situation for up to 10 years, adding that and according to UNAIDS, an estimated 9.4 million worldwide, which is 25 percent of PLHA, do not know about their infection.
According to the figures issued by Ministry of Health and Population in 2015, only 4 percent of young women in Egypt and 7 percent of young men between the ages of 15 to 24 had correct knowledge about HIV, which adds to the state of false information, stigma and discrimination.
Khamis hailed the successful partnership embodied in the cooperation between Egyptian health ministry, the NAP and UNAIDS to provide free services for people living with HIV, including testing, counseling, and the provision of medication and clinical services. Khamis stressed that this time of the year is always a chance to call on all stakeholders to raise more awareness regarding the nature of HIV and to eradicate the stigma still associated with it.
“This day is another chance to push further efforts to raise awareness, help people understand more about HIV, and stop discrimination against people living with the disease," Khamis said.
On behalf of the preventive medicine sector in the Egyptian Ministry of Health and population, Professor Mohamed Abdel-Fattah said that the country is abiding by its plan to end AIDS by 2030, stressing that the goal of 0 percent transmission of the virus from mother to child has already been achieved.
"Egypt has formulated a new strategy for 2022, adopting global targets in the prevention and treatment of HIV. The main focus of the strategy is on increased testing and linking people to healthcare, and then following up with them until full suppression of the virus is attained," he said.
“Antiretroviral treatment covers 100 percent of people enlisted and registered in the treatment centres all over the country, and the drugs are completely free of charge,” he said.
He added that the ministry is providing specially trained gynecologists for women living with the virus to make sure mother and child stay as healthy as possible during and after the pregnancy, as well as providing psychological support centres.
Further information about the situation in Egypt is provided by Dr Walid Kamal, manager of Egypt's National AIDS Programme, which was established in 1986 at an early phase when HIV was still new on the scene.
“In Egypt, most infections occur between the ages of 15 to 49, 80 percent of which are males,” Kamal says.
Kamal added that NAP estimates new infections in Egypt in 2017 to number around 1,600 cases. He said that females comprise only 18 percent of detected cases, which is an indication of the stigma that still surrounds the topic.
"Now in 18 governorates in Egypt, there are 24 centres for testing, consulting and providing services to citizens with absolute discretion, and receiving their calls on their various hotlines on a daily basis from 9am till 6pm," he said.
According to UNAIDS, the rate of HIV infections in the Middle East and North Africa has skyrocketed by a whopping 27 percent in 2017 compared to 2010; that is 36,000 new infections each year, which is one of the highest rates worldwide.