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AIDS – A Taboo in the Arab World

AIDS, the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a taboo word in the Arab world. But the scary word has managed to crop up in many blog posts this week – from Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Bahrain and Yemen.

Jordanian blogger Hareega, a doctor by profession, shares this ‘uncomfortable conversation’ he has had with an acquaintance about his work at the HIV Aids clinic:

A friend asked, “How's your work this month”
“Good, I'm doing HIV clinics three times a week”
“HIV? like AIDS?”
“Yes”
“Watch out”
“Watch out from what?”
He looked me like I was an idiot, “Watch out from the HIV”
“Why should I watch out?”
“Well, watch out, it's HIV, it's AIDS”
“But why should I watch out? I don't sleep with my patients in the clinic”
“I know idiot, but just watch out, it's AIDS”
“I don't inject drugs with them either”
“I know I know, but just watch out”
“From what?”
“Listen, I'm no scientist (obviously), but you gotta watch out, or I have to start watching out from you”

Hareega continues:

Since January 1st, 2008, twenty-two new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Jordan.
Public knowledge about HIV among Jordanians, especially the “well-educated”: Zero, and declining.

Iraqi Layla Anwar too is incensed at the way this topic is “broached” in the Arab world – despite the increasing incidence of the disease in the region. While watching a television programme on the issue, the blogger notes:

Was watching a program some months ago, on Arabic Al-Jazeerah on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in the Arab World.
The producer cleverly attempted to broach this “sensitive” and taboo subject, by presenting it as a religious program and invited a guest speaker who is a specialist in both medicine and religious sciences i.e Islamic theology.

Layla explains:

HIV carriers are on the increase in the Arab World. No one would like to admit that but that is a fact. We all know how HIV is transmitted and we all know that the practice of safe sex and the screening of blood banks is a must.
So this is not what really caught my attention in the program. What caught my attention is that HIV and STD's are also on the rise among married heterosexual couples in the Arab World and not just among homosexuals.
The invited guest's speciality was epidemiology and infectious diseases. And in the realm of his practice, he encountered several cases (undeclared in public statistics) of straight couples for the most part married, infected with STD's and HIV in particular.
In 99% of the cases, the woman was infected by her husband. A husband who had unprotected extra-marital relations, with other women and sometimes with other men.
In 99% of the cases, the man believing himself to be invincible, had refused the idea of protection i.e the use of a condom.
So Mr.returning from his business trip, or his night outing comes home and offers his wife/partner the kiss of death.

On taboos, Layla says:

Of course you understand that talking about this subject in the Arab World is very taboo. A lot of denial surrounds it and a lot of rationalizations, to the effect that “us in muslim societies don't have such things”, “sweep it under the carpet, and don't let the neighbors know– what will people think”….etc.
The wall of tradition and culture is so dense that it is nearly impossible to talk about this subject in public without being accused of being “decadent, lewd and immoral.”
Meanwhile, AIDS victims die in silence, quarantined in rooms made of shame and guilt.

Amal A, from Palestine, also tackles the topic of Aids, noting her disgust at how a court case was handle in Egypt, where the prosecutor told one of the men involved in the trial, when he was informed him that he is HIV positive: “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”

If Egypt is going to throw in jail all Egyptian men who have sex with men, they will need many more prisons. (…)
The criminalization of AIDs is a disaster!!! Othering and demonizing patients who are HIV positive or have AIDS will not help protect Egyptians. But this is not about protecting Egyptians at all. It's about the state scapegoating the weak to consolidate its power uber alles.

But things are changing slowly and there seems to be a silver lining. Bahraini Butterfly will soon be attending in Cairo, entitled Independent Artists/Bloggers Responding to AIDS in the Arab Region.

وستضم الورشة مجموعة من المدونين والمبدعين العرب في مجال التصوير وصناعة الافلام السينمائية وغيرها من الفنون الإعلامية.
هذه هي المرة الأولى التي سيتسنى لي فيها حضور فعالية تخص برنامج الامم المتحدة الانمائي في البحرين، كما ستكون المرة الأولى ايضا التي ستتاح لي فيها فرصة اللقاء بالمدونين والمبدعين العرب من مختلف الاقطار العربية. وسأشارككم بالطبع بما سأكتشفه من اسرار ودهاليز تتعلق بهذا المرض المخيف الذي لايزال الحديث عنه محظورا في معظم دولنا العربية.

The workshop will involve bloggers and creative Arabs in the areas of photography, film making and other media arts. This is the first time I will be attending an event organised by the United Nations Development Programme in Bahrain and also meet with bloggers and artists from around the Arab world. I will definitely share with you the secrets I will uncover about this scary disease, where even talking about it is prohibited in most of our Arab countries.

And last but not least, Armies of Liberation, links to news sources about a miracle Aids herbal medicine, developed in Yemen which claims to have the cure for the deadly virus.

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