DAMMAM – The stigma of AIDS is expressed around the world in a variety of ways including ostracism, rejection, avoidance and the quarantining of people with AIDS and HIV.
The stigma of AIDS is universal, but its form varies from country to country, and the specific groups which are stigmatized vary considerably.
This stigma puts great psychological pressure on AIDS patients to the extent many are driven to commit suicide while others transmit the viral disease to others to avenge themselves on society. Still others enter into a cycle of incurable depression which makes them desert their loved ones and live in isolation.
The latest statistics released by the Saudi Ministry of Health show that the Kingdom is much less affected by the disease than other countries. According to statistics, 439 Saudis and 682 non-Saudis contracted the disease in 2010. This brings the total number of reported AIDS cases in the Kingdom in the past 26 years to 16,334 people: 4,458 Saudis and 11,336 foreigners.
The report indicates that 93 percent of those who are suffering from the disease in the Kingdom contracted it through sexual intercourse, five percent through drug injections while two percent were children who contracted the disease from their mothers, according to a report in Asharq newspaper.
Lack of awareness
Salma Al-Aali, a social worker who psychologically supports some AIDS patients said: “The way society looks at AIDS patients is normal because of the lack of awareness. Many people in the society ignore the ways that people contract the disease. Some women contract the disease from their husbands and some others contract it through blood transfusions. Although such people are not to be blamed for contracting the disease, society still stigmatizes them.”
Al-Aali said some people have difficulty accepting their fate, and this drives them to commit suicide as in the recent case of a woman who was infected by her husband.
“When she became pregnant and went for a routine check-up, she discovered that she was HIV positive. She committed suicide by severing her arteries,” Al-Aali said.
Workers’ medical examination
Ahmad Abdullah, Deputy Saudi Consul in India, rejected the accusation that recruited workers transmit the disease.
“There is zero chance these workers transmit the disease because they undergo HIV tests in medical centers and hospitals approved by the Saudi Ministry of Health.”
He said the Saudi Consulate does not issue any work visa unless it receives a documented medical report that the worker is free of the HIV virus.
“All Indian workers bound to the Kingdom are scanned through 170 recruitment offices distributed all over the Kingdom. They do not only have the HIV test, but also tests for hepatitis and other diseases, and the medical centers in India are thoroughly monitored.”
Falling into the abyss
H.B. is a young Saudi girl who admitted that she fell in love with one of her relatives who promised to marry her in order to have relations with her before marriage. Ten years after his death she learned that he had transmitted the disease to her.
“Since then I have developed a feeling that I’m an outcast. Thus I never leave the small room which my brother devoted to me after the death of my parents. I only leave my room when I go to the hospital to get medicine.”
M. R. said she contracted the disease from her husband who used to travel to Kenya. She used to accompany her husband to the hospital when he first started coughing and had a fever. The doctor misdiagnosed him and prescribed treatment for TB for three months. However, when his health condition deteriorated the doctor eventually requested an HIV test for him. The result was very stunning as it showed that he was HIV positive.
“My husband died after seven months. After 10 years, I developed AIDS symptoms, but I did not surrender to my fate and finished my university education. However, I have been fired several times when my employers find out that I am HIV positive. This AIDS stigma has been chasing me everywhere.”
The Head of Epidemic Diseases at the Ministry of Health in Dammam, Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Kanan, said the treatment of each HIV patient costs the ministry $50,000 a year.
“The number of cases has fallen dramatically indicating that the regular enlightenment campaigns have helped create public awareness about the disease. This awareness helps patients to integrate into the society,” Kanan said. – SG