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Egyptian mother with HIV kills herself after neighbours force her to move

As HIV infections soar, fierce stigma still surrounds the disease in Egypt [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 December, 2017

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The tragic death of a young mother with HIV brings to light the woefully inadequate response and crushing societal stigma of the alarming HIV/AIDS epidemic in Egypt.
An Egyptian woman has killed herself after neighbours ousted her and her family from their apartment when they found out she was HIV positive.

The 24-year old mother of two threw herself from a fifth-floor balcony in Cairo’s Bulaq neighbourhood, after suffering a “psychological crisis” according to local newspaper al-Masry al-Youm.

It is thought that the woman’s family came under pressure from neighbours to leave their home, after it was discovered that the mother of two and her husband were both HIV positive.

The woman had contracted the infection from her husband, a heroin user who had used contaminated needles. They had both discovered their HIV status eight months previously and had reportedly tried in vain to keep their diagnosis a secret, as the young woman feared causing a scandal.

On discovering that the pair were HIV positive, the neighbours held a meeting in which they decided to force the young family out of their apartment in Bulaq, ordering them to leave the area completely. The family were on their way to the husband’s mother’s house when the woman went back up to the apartment and threw herself off the building.

Alarming epidemic

The heart-breaking incident is telling of Egypt’s damaging attitude towards HIV/AIDS and the on-going stigma associated with the virus in the country.

Latest UN reports suggest that cases of HIV in Egypt are increasing by as much as 40% each year, with young people and adolescents most at risk

This month, UN officials "voiced alarm" over the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Egypt. Latest UN reports suggest that cases of HIV in Egypt are increasing by as much as 40 percent each year, with young people and adolescents most at risk.

UNAIDS estimate there are over 11,000 cases of HIV infection in the country, while Egypt’s Health Ministry puts the figure lower at 7,000. Egypt ranks only behind Iran, Sudan and Somalia in the Middle East for the rate at which the virus is spreading.

Drug use in Egypt has also been on the rise in recent years. The country’s location on the Suez Canal means it is part of the transit channel for many illegal drugs, such as heroin being transported from Afghanistan to Europe.

Out-dated attitudes and inadequate responses

It is clear however, that the rapidly spreading virus is not being tackled by appropriate means.

HIV and AIDS carry a heavy social stigma in a country where conservative mores still take precedence in politics and health care. HIV's association with homosexuality, drug use, prostitution and other activities held in contempt by religious conservatives, means that social and healthcare strategies to tackle the disease and its causes are not openly discussed by the nation’s policy makers.

However, many are ignorant of the fact that it is often contracted through unprotected sex within marriage.

HIV-positive patients are often refused proper care due to the stigma, according to UNAIDS officials. Rehab facilities and funding are also woefully inadequate as a result. Official UN figures suggest that only a quarter of HIV positive people are receiving antiretroviral medication, the only means of preventing the virus from developing into AIDS.

In a country where female sexuality is tightly policed by a woman’s family as well as wider society, an HIV diagnosis causes particular outrage

A chronic lack of awareness of the means of transmission and prevention of HIV, including adequate sex education, is a leading, yet regrettably preventable, cause of its rapid spread.

The deeply entrenched social stigma has especially devastating effects for women in Egyptian society. In a country where female sexuality is tightly policed by a woman’s family as well as wider society, an HIV diagnosis causes particular outrage.

In an anonymous testimony given to UNAIDS and reported by Associated Press, one woman said she was infected by her late husband and later found it hard to live in a society that rejects people carrying the virus. She was beaten and denied by her family an inheritance she and her children were legally entitled to when her husband died. When she attempted to start a new life with her children in a different neighbourhood, her in-laws made sure her new neighbours learned about her condition.

Agencies contributed to this report

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