December 8, 2004

NEWS: Arab Media Should Help Knock AIDS Taboos

Tue Dec 7,12:55 PM ET

By Heba Kandil

DUBAI (Reuters) - Media in the Middle East and North Africa, with one of the fastest AIDS (news - web sites) growth rates, needs to help combat the epidemic by fighting cultural taboos, a U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF (news - web sites)) official said on Tuesday.

Currently 540,000 people in the region live with the HIV virus (news - web sites), up from 430,000 in 2002. The disease has killed 28,000 people and infected 92,000 in 2004, according to U.N. estimates.

HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS, affecting an estimated 39.4 million people worldwide, is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa with 25.4 million cases and least found in Oceania at 35,000 cases.

Mohammed Imad al-Daker, consultant on HIV/AIDS at UNICEF, said while AIDS cases are lower in this region than other areas, the rapid increase was alarming.

Local media should help correct falsehoods held by the societies often reluctant to discuss the disease.

"In the Arab world, there are very few national media strategies on AIDS. We need a responsible media to disseminate correct information," Daker told Reuters in an interview.

"High unemployment rates, low acceptance of condom usage, reluctance by the family to discuss AIDS, and lack of adequate counseling are some of the environmental and lifestyle factors that boost the chances of acquiring AIDS," he said.

"Here, societies view condoms as an illicit promotion of extra-marital relations, forbidden in religion. Such sexual relations have existed for a long time, before condoms, and Islam also teaches us that a person is obliged to protect himself and others. This is what a condom does," Daker said.

He added that the region's conservative culture, which frowns on extra-marital sex, can help curb the spread of the disease.


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