A silence that kills
AIDS is the plague of our times. Each year it kills five million people. There are currently 40 million people who are carrying the disease. We cannot make it go away. All we can do is slow its progress.
To tackle the challenges posed by AIDS officials in the Arab world must first stop burying the truth. The numbers of those carrying the infection should not be treated as a shameful secret to be hidden from the public. Pretending that there is no problem serves only to compound the dangers. AIDS does not respect national boundaries.
AIDS is dangerous. It is even more dangerous, though, to resort to the language of the past in dealing with the threat.
The ways in which AIDS is transmitted are well-known. They are few in number and the disease is not contagious in any traditional sense. It can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, if such intercourse takes place without the use of prophylactics. It can also be transmitted via contaminated blood or through sharing needles when injecting drugs.
We need to be frank and open if we are to halt the spread of the disease. It is of no use whatsoever to take refuge in the belief that we are a traditional society. We must stop claiming our religious beliefs and traditions will protect us. Extramarital sexual relations happen here and everywhere else. People inject themselves with drugs here, just as they do elsewhere. These are facts, and to ignore them is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand. And that is no way to tackle a possible public health crisis.
We must approach the challenges posed by AIDS in an honest and open manner. The victims of AIDS must not be further victimised by society. What is at stake is our claim to be civilised.
We must embark on media campaigns that inform the public of the dangers. Those infected with AIDS, and their families, must be lent constructive support, and given the opportunity to talk about the illness and how to deal with it. The same techniques have been successfully employed around the world.
It is the height of irresponsibility to allow the disease to become a taboo subject. AIDS must not be allowed to join the long list of issues that the Arab world believes can be made to go away if they are simply ignored. The public deserves better. Those responsible for the health of the nation must do just that -- take responsibility.