2010-Dec-18, UN official: Youth key to AIDS prevention
 
2010-Dec-18,

BEIRUT: HIV and AIDS continue to be taboo subjects in much of the Arab world, with sufferers often shunned by their families, friends and even the medical establishment.

Over the last couple of years, however, concerted efforts by a coalition of NGOs, health and United Nations agencies, have helped catapult the issue to the forefront of debate, with their efforts finally beginning to bear fruit.

“You [the youth] are our dream to reach a world safe from HIV viruses,” said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Lebanon country director Ziad Rifai Wednesday. “[It is the] youth who will be the force of protection against future spread of AIDS and a force of resistance to contain AIDS in order to protect your lovely nation.”

Rifai joined forces with famed TV presenter Tony Baroud to open a two-day cultural event for some 800 students from six national high schools who gathered at the Beirut’s United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Palace to participate in an array of awareness raising activities.

The games, plays and education seminars have all been designed to take the stigma away from the disease and encourage people to engage in so-called “safe” behavior. After the event the activities will be reenacted at each of the six schools. The event has been organized by UNFPA, the Association of Performance and Visual Arts and Y-Peer Lebanon a collection of related NGOs and held in remembrance of World Aids Day, commemorated on December 1st, but usually observed for the duration of the month.

Similar youth-engagement schemes across the world have been branded a success. The rate of infection among young people in 15 of the most severely affected countries has fallen by more than 25 percent in the past five years, partly thanks to specially targeted awareness campaigns and the growth of government involvement.

Although globally the rate of new infections has fallen by nearly 20 percent in the last 10 years and the total number of people living with HIV is thought to be stabilizing, in Lebanon – where the figures are proportionally negligible – the number of diagnosed cases is rising.

In 2010 some 93 new cases of HIV were diagnosed, 18 percent of which were in those under the age of 30, considered one of the most vulnerable age groups. While a slight increase from last year, the true figure is estimated to be significantly higher as many are thought to be put off being tested out of fear, or may be unaware they are at risk, UNFPA said.


 

 
 
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