Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- A senior official at the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia criticized on Monday a medical consultant for revealing the number of AIDS cases in the Kingdom.
Dr. Aisha Metwalli, a female consultant at King Abdulaziz hospital in Jeddah told a women’s cultural conference earlier in the week that, according to the latest medical statistics, the number of people with AIDS has reached 72380 in Saudi Arabia.”
The source indicated that Dr. Metwalli had violated government regulations relating to AIDS that state health practitioners should avoid “creating panic amongst members of the public.”
The nature of AIDS requires secrecy, especially with regards to patients’ personal data and certain officials within the Agency for Preventive Medicine, part of the Ministry of Health, were the only ones entitled to handle such information, the source added.
Dr. Metwalli’s latest remarks were not official authorized, given that she is not an AIDS specialist and is not directly responsible for patients. The source also pointed out that the Ministry of Health carries out a yearly inspection of all new cases across the Kingdom.
The source sought to distance the Ministry from the consultant’s claim that a certain popular neighborhood was at the center of the AIDS epidemic in the Kingdom. He said her statements were not necessarily true because Dr. Metwalli had no access to the latest statistics on the issue.
In order to avoid a repeat of this scenario, the source called on all Ministry employees to refrain from commenting on issues outside their specialization. Registered cases were likely to be fewer than the number of people suffering from AIDS, the source added, because many fear being tested or are unaware they might be infected.
As part of its efforts to halt the spread of AIDS and HIV in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health was continuously monitoring new cases, especially amongst at risk groups, in coordination with other government authorities, the source said.
According to the Ministry’s latest statistics, from 1984 until 2004, 8919 have contracted AIDS, including 1111 recently diagnosed. Half live in Jeddah and around 16% in Riyadh.