Saudi Arabia: AIDS treatment takes step backward

The Saudi government reported that in 2008 the number of AIDS patients in Saudi Arabia was 13,926 with 3,538 Saudis. An estimated 505 were Saudi females and 769 non-Saudi women.

The Saudi government reported that in 2008 the number of AIDS patients in Saudi Arabia was 13,926 with 3,538 Saudis. An estimated 505 were Saudi females and 769 non-Saudi women.

The subject of AIDS/HIV has always been a taboo in Saudi Arabia, where the debate is raging over the treatment of patients like criminals. Recently, Saudi Arabia announced its plans to shut down a volunteer clinic in Jeddah’s King Saud Hospital that is known for providing medical services, counseling and privacy to AIDS victims. Bloggers lash out at the move saying it is a step backward.

Wafa, who attended a workshop held by a Saudi organization fighting discrimination against AIDS patients, wrote:

I know for a fact that lots of people here still think that being an aids patients is your fault, and that you must have got it through sexual relationship. A few people know the difference between Aids and HIV. A lot of aids patients are being stained with shame and people look down on them. We really need to spread the word for a better knowledge of the disease and stop the discrimination against aids patients.

Wafa further explained how the whole society is not welcoming to help the patients, with even the religious leaders increasing the problem due to their ignorance about the causes of the disease:

The problem happens in the whole society. When the First and only Saudi organization for aids started its work, it was faced by ignoring from almost everyone thus it has no financial resources, society feared that acknowledging the organization is the first step to accept the existing of AIDS in Saudi Arabia, mostly because it is still believed that the cause of it is sexual relationships.
Religious leaders also denounce the organization saying that it is working in a westerns manner by accepting illegal sexual relationships and asking for money to help with its consequence.

Another Saudi blogger Sabria S. Jawhar, an IPhD Student in the UK, mentioned that although times have changed, but the most important rule for victims stayed the same. They have to keep the disease a secret from friends, acquaintances and even family. She then explained the new problem facing patients, in regards to shutting down the clinic in Jeddah’s King Saud Hospital:

Now, it’s scheduled to be shut down and its AIDS patients distributed all over the Kingdom for treatment. It appears that just when Saudi Arabia achieves parity in treating AIDS sufferers with the rest of the world, as it has with its organ transplant policies and with its specialization in separating conjoined twins, it takes a step backward.

The closure of AIDS services at King Saud threatens the privacy and consistent treatment of patients. It also increases the likelihood of spreading the disease because the trust built by King Saud doctors, nurses and support staff must be rebuilt with strangers at another medical facility. This is not an easy task.


The transfer of patients also begs the question of what will other medical centers do with them. Will these patients be grouped with non-AIDS patients or be treated in a specialty ward? Will their privacy be protected?

And, unlike any other society, AIDS patients need special treatment, and high level of privacy, as Sabria continued to explain:

The emotional bond among hospital employees was strong. A trust existed between the patient and employee. Unlike many Western AIDS patients who don’t hide their illness, Saudis insist on it because it means being judged by one’s family and friends. The trust between patient and hospital employee meant their secret was safe.

One AIDS patient said recently of King Saud Hospital: “When we go there we feel like we are treated like human beings. I know people will listen to me. But I don’t tell anyone else.”

That secret is now at risk as these patients are shuttled to different facilities. Ensuring proper treatment and taking precautions to prevent AIDS from spreading is now at risk.

One of the commentators on Wafa‘s post, Angie Nader, pitied these patients and said:

Even there is so much talk about aids throughout the world…it still is here..we have to do whatever we can as human people to make this disease stop. And those who are suffering from eaither…we need to show them respect and let them live with dignity.

Adding my voice to Angie, I wonder if something will be better done to help these suffering patients..


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