30 May, 2008

HIV-AIDS: Yemen's Challenge

To suffer from any of the deadly diseases is always both physically and mentally draining; in most cases, it can be economically demanding too. Be it cancer, hepatitis, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS. These are diseases that are most difficult to deal with; the latter, in particular.

SANA'A, May 12 (Saba)- A three-year (2008-2010) programme document on "Developing National Capacities to Address HIV/AIDS in Yemen (Phase-II)" was singed on Monday by Yemen and the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP).......

Yemen was one of the first few countries in the region to address the HIV/AIDS within its national development agenda. A National HIV/AIDS Strategy was prepared in a participatory manner and approved by the Government in 2001. Since then, a number of initiatives were undertaken, which has resulted in the establishment of a National multisectoral HIV/AIDS Task Force in 2003 andapproval of multisectoral strategic framework by the Cabinet. Saba News

Even if Yemen is much more ahead of its Arab neighbors in tackling HIV/AIDS, it's still a long way from making facilities and medication easily available and accessible to those afflicted. HIV/AIDS testing facilities are available in all major medical centers and labs. But, it's when one has tested positive that the problem starts; it then becomes extremely difficult for the afflicted. At the moment, HIV/AIDS infected people have to travel and go all the way to Sana'a, Yemen's capital city, for them to have their CD4 cell count and viral load - tested; it's only by having these tests, that a patient can be properly treated and medicines can be suitably prescribed. If the CD4 cell count rises, the body is better able to fight infection; if it gets lower, medication can start and the type of medicine to be prescribed can be decided on, by the physician. Viral load testing measures the amount of HIV in the blood. Viral load helps predict what will happen next with the HIV infected person if he or she doesn't get treatment. For HIV/AIDS medication too, patients have to travel, regularly (every 3 or so months) to Sana'a to receive the medicines; they are not available in other Yemeni medical centers or pharmacies.

One can only imagine how difficult and exhausting this can be for the already mentally strained, HIV/AIDS afflicted person and the people around him. It costs much money traveling all the way to Sana'a; and food and accommodation cost even much more. It's expensive. Many simply can't afford it. Making all the facilities and medicines easily available and accessible to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS should be made a priority (the priority now) by all those concerned in the country and those helping from outside, in combating HIV/aids here. As it is, many, if not most, with HIV/AIDS find it extremely difficult living with it here; to make the further tests required and treatment - easily available and accessible - will be most helpful and relieving, indeed. That will save more lives too, and will be less expensive in the long run.

And though, compared to two or so years ago, many people now are aware of HIV/AIDS - most simply don't understand the disease; and some people still consider it disgraceful and shameful for one to be afflicted by HIV/AIDS. In Al Mukalla, mosques and preachers have been most vocal in building awareness about HIV/AIDS; they advice people on the dangers of the pandemic and how to avoid it, and at the same time - advice those afflicted to have courage and patience; and for those close to the afflicted, to show consideration and understanding. "In the beginning, people had very limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and dealt with this issue insensitively...People are now beginning to understand what HIV/AIDS is and how it is transmitted."

How many people have the disease here? Very, very few indeed; officially, not more than 3,000 all over Yemen. For the last few months, as low as HIV/AIDS cases are in Yemen - it has been very encouraging to see that: not only building awareness about the pandemic has been intensified, but the means in combating it too.

Updated - November, 2010 - go to: The Body, KHN, KHN, Yemen Observer and UNDP