The Health Ministry in the United Arab Emirates announced a new awareness campaign for HIV and AIDS. In collaboration with UNICEF, the campaign targets individuals between 16 and 24 years of age under the title "All Together."
However, amid efforts to educate citizens, some think HIV and AIDS may be underreported in the country, as doctors as required by law to report any cases to the government.
As one doctor told The National, "Everyone is scared and says ‘are you going to report me if it is positive?’ and ‘Are they going to deport me if it is positive?'"
Expatriates who contract HIV are normally deported once their case is reported. Before expats can change jobs or come to the UAE they must undergo HIV tests and those with positive results are denied visas.
Doctors are caught in an ethical dilemma between respecting patients' privacy and obeying the law. As another doctor said, "We cannot break the law. ... That puts us in an awkward position as well. But going to the doctor and getting treated is much more important than anything."
Last month, a UN report revealed that HIV remains relatively rare among Emirati citizens, with 636 nationals currently living with the disease. However, only 121 of these individuals chose to remain in the UAE.
Socially, and especially for Emiratis, the new campaign may be a sign of progress. HIV and AIDS carry a great deal of stigma within the Emirates, according to the recent United Nations report. Raising awareness might help prevent further cases and promote knowledge about the disease. Currently a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation remains common throughout society.
The U.N. report pointed out that much of the ongoing problem with STDs and specifically HIV/AIDS comes as a result of prostitution, drug use and extramarital sex. "The main risk factors among UAE nationals is reported to be extramarital heterosexual relations and intravenous drug use for men, and infection from the spouse for women."
With societal, cultural and religious values the way they currently are within the UAE, the report went on to suggest it would be difficult for policymakers to face these particular challenges. The report and the awareness campaign may be steps in the right direction, but as long as expats remain excluded and face deportation, it seems difficult to believe that the UAE will be able to fully address the problem.