The Fear Of AIDS
From the time when the first case was spotted in late nineties, an alarming number of citizens were identified and confirmed with HIV/AIDS by 2003 (HIV/Aids info can be found here, too!). It is not a huge number considering a country with a total population of around 23 million. But in last 20 years, the cases have risen up to 30%. Though the amount of detected HIV cases in Iraq has been extremely low in number, the current collapse of the nation's health system, lack of strict screening for all travelers at the border, looting of medical provisions (including testing kits), active sexual behavior and growing drug usage among the youngsters makes Iraq very vulnerable to the rapid spread of HIV.
The only HIV public health facility in Iraq is located at Baghdad viz. National AIDS Laboratory. The confirmatory tests are conducted here. Both Iraqis and non-Iraqis entering the country have to go through HIV screening. During initial period, people who were involved in the entertainment business were considered to be at potential risk and that is the reason they were tested. STD Patients, people working in night clubs, prisoners, prostitutes, pregnant women, blood donors and couples prior to marriage were also tested for the same. In the year 2000, round about half a million tests were performed and around 20 of them were detected HIV Positive.
But in recent times, this number has increased considerably. One of the reasons for this is poverty. More than 50% of the population is completely dependent upon the subsidies provided by the government for the food and other basic services. Poverty is connected with poor health, limited knowledge and skills and above all illiteracy. More than 40% of the Iraqi adults fall in uneducated category. According to WHO/UNAIDS, the count for the HIV infected people is doubling year by year now.
To take the situation under control, the former Government of Iraq had launched NAP -National Aids Control Program in late 1980s. It has well established objectives, such as stopping the transmission of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infection), propagation of health information through the prescribed education system, blood and blood product safety, disease control, and providing care and support for those who are living with the disease. NAP also took help of some of the non-governmental organizations like the "Union of Iraqi Women"," Union of Youth and Students" together with some other NGOs (Red Crescent) to implement HIV/AIDS preventive activities in their programs.
In actual practice, the NAP was limited in scope. HIV preventive education was included, albeit in a limited manner, into biology and health subjects in the Iraqi school curriculum at elementary, intermediate and secondary levels. Due to lack of knowledge, training institutes could not offer HIV preventive education in their core curriculum. General public were not aware of HIV/AIDS. This was another limiting factor. Communication means and mass media were hardly ever used for providing HIV prevention messages. Limited publication of educational material related to HIV/AIDS was one of the biggest challenges for the NAP.
Though the efforts are being laid towards awareness and reduction of HIV infected diseases, the situation still needs attention.