Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Dr. Ziad Memish, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health for Preventative Medicine, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that 1,287 new cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Saudi Arabia last year. This raises the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in Saudi Arabia to 15,213 cases.
Dr. Ziad Memish told Asharq Al-Awsat that 1,287 new HIV/AIDS cases were reported in 2009, with 481 Saudi nationals and 806 foreign nationals being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He also pointed to the existence of a directive by the Health Ministry on how to curb this disease, as well as expanding upon means of detecting and treating HIV/AIDS with the aim of reducing the level of HIV/AIDS cases to an acceptable level which does not pose a threat to public health in Saudi Arabia.
In an official statement, the Ministry of Health said that the total number of HIV/AIDS cases reported in Saudi Arabia between 1984 and 2009 stands at 15,213 cases. Of these, 4,019 are Saudi nationals; with the remaining 11,194 cases are those of foreign nationals. The Ministry of Health also indicated that the ratio of HIV/AIDS between men and women in Saudi Arabia stands at 4:1, with the majority of recently detected HIV/AIDS cases being amongst men. The report also revealed that HIV/AIDS cases in 2009 were down 5 percent in comparison to the 2008 figures.
The Ministry of Health statement also stated that “81 percent of cases are among the 15 – 49 age group, which represents 389 cases of the 481 cases reported the last year.” The report also revealed that in 95 percent of the cases, which represents 456 of the 481 cases reported in 2009, HIV/AIDS was transmitted via sexual intercourse, with only 3 percent or 14 cases seeing the disease transmitted via mother-to-child transmission, and the remaining 2 percent or 11 cases seeing HIV/AIDS transmitted as a result of intravenous drug use.
The Ministry also stressed that the majority of HIV/AIDS cases discovered among Saudi nationals was due to several reasons, 41 percent as a result of the presence of symptoms, 12 percent were discovered when testing contacts of those who were diagnosed, 12 percent during pre-marriage tests, 11 percent among prison inmates, and 7 percent who went for voluntary tests, and 5 percent of blood donors.
Dr. Khalid al-Talhi, the Director of the Saudi Ministry of Health’s National Program to Combat AIDS told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi workers are not required to disclose if they are HIV positive so long as they do not pose a threat to those around them.
Dr. al-Talhi also told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone that “we work to inform either the Interior Ministry or the Labor Ministry when we receive any complaint concerning the presence of a [HIV] infected individual at a workplace, and this is with the goal of transferring this individual to another job if we can confirm that his presence at the initial job represents a threat of the disease being transmitted [to others].”
Dr. al-Talhi also confirmed that HIV/AIDS victims are protected by international law from being summarily fired simply for being HIV positive, however the director of a human resources department at a major company, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that job applicants are required to take a medical test, which includes an HIV test, prior to recruitment and that applicants who test positive for HIV or AIDS are rejected.
The Ministry of Health directive also revealed that with regards to HIV/AIDS cases among non-Saudi nationals; 33 percent of cases were detected after symptoms were exhibited, 32 percent were detected when renewing residency permits [as this includes a medical test], 20 percent among prison inmates, and 12 percent were detected when applying for residency for the first time.
The Health Ministry’s National Program to Combat AIDS is dedicated to implementing a national strategy to raise awareness of the impact and dangers of this disease. This program is taking place in collaboration with the private and public sector, and NGO’s that are active in this particular area. The National Program to Combat AIDS has 8 voluntary testing centers in different Saudi Arabian cities, and this has had a huge impact on detecting AIDS cases and providing medical care and treatment.
For her part, Dr. Sana Flimban, the President of the Saudi AIDS Patients Society, told Asharq Al-Awsat that AIDS patients are suffering from social disgrace and discrimination. She said that this is something that “causes them to be hostile to society as long as society continues to regard them as being morally inferior, which in some cases results in them attempting to intentionally spread the disease as a form of revenge.”