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UN voices alarm as HIV cases up 40% in Egypt

UNAIDS estimates over 11,000 cases [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2017

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Social stigma, coupled with lack of funding is hindering efforts to tackle HIV in Egypt leading to a 40% spike in the epidemic the UN agency warns

The number of new HIV cases is up 40% a year in Egypt, prompting the United Nations to voice alarm over its spread.

Egypt, home to some 95 million people, ranks behind Iran, Sudan and Somalia in the Middle East at the rate in which the epidemic is spreading according to UN figures. Efforts to combat the epidemic are hampered by social stigma associated with homosexuality.  

Whilst there are no explicit laws banning homosexuality, gay men are frequently arrested and typically charged with debauchery, immorality or blasphemy.  

A draft law was submitted in the wake of the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila concert in Egypt where the pride flag was raised, leading to mass arrests. The draft law would see homosexuals and their “supporters” sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

"There is a 25-30 percent increase in incidents every year... It's is alarming to us because the growth of the epidemic and the discontinuation of interest from donors in funding," Ahmed Khamis, part of the UN AIDS agency said.

While official state figures estimates the HIV cases to be at around 7000, UNAIDS says there are over 11,000 cases. The rise in the number of new infections however, is not disputed.

"Most recently, we've been seeing people of a much younger age group infected with the virus. There is a higher risk now for adolescents and youths than in the past," said Khamis.

"We don't have exact numbers, but this is what the evidence we are seeing on the ground is suggesting," he added, suggesting the lack of funding hindering Egypt’s ability to produce precise figures.

Patients who require surgical intervention are often unable to access basic health care at hospitals because of the associated stigma, UNAIDS officials said.

UNAIDS, in partnership with Tabah Foundation recently led a panel discussion bringing Muslim and Christian leadership to discuss the importance of religious leadership playing a role in tackling HIV. 

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