Tackling HIV/AIDS in the Arab region is a challenge that governments, health and religious institutions must face upfront while the rights of those affected by the disease needs to be protected, according to Dr Khadija Moalla, regional coordinator for the HIV/AIDS Regional Programme in the Arab States (HARPAS) for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Dr Moalla shared her insights at a lecture titled ’HIV/AIDS and Women’s Rights: A Public Policy Perspective’ that was organised by the Dubai School of Government (DSG), a research and teaching institution focusing on public policy in the Arab world. Students, academic professionals and representatives from government and non-government institutions attended the lecture.
Pointing out that the disease requires candidness and a high degree of understanding because of the stigma attached, Dr Moalla emphasised the need to address deep-rooted cultural biases, prejudices and misinterpretations of religious concepts to bring about sustainable change.
“There is just a small window of opportunity to stem the tide of HIV/ AIDS and ensure the threshold is not crossed. Gender empowerment and policy changes are important aspects. However, they are not sufficient to produce true social transformations on women rights.
“Too often, religious and cultural taboos prevent people from openly discussing the ways in which this disease spreads. This is why involving religious leaders is important in order to bring about a change in response. Religious leaders are key players in the region’s culture, and they have a great impact upon people's attitude and values,” Dr Moalla said.
“Focusing on the deeper level of commitment, the strength of human togetherness and common values of justice and dignity must be assessed, both at the personal and social levels, if a real shift on gender issues is to be achieved. Religious leaders, legislators and media leaders have already contributed significantly towards this effort. But more importantly, women living with or vulnerable to HIV/AIDS provide valuable insights into how transformational leadership methodologies can offer hope and deliver effective results in challenging situations.”
Conference to focus on AIDS and injecting drug use in MENA
The growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North African region in countries like Iran, Libya and Bahrain which is being driven by injecting drug use will be the focus of the International Harm Reduction conference set to take place in Beirut, Lebanon from 3-7 April 2011.
Over 1000 researchers, activists, social workers and politicians from some 80 countries are expected to attend the event.
Eli Aaraj, secretary general of SIDC and director of Middle East and North African Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA) explained: “While a few countries have introduced harm reduction in this region significant gaps remain in the response. Injecting drug use is fuelling HIV epidemics in Iran and Libya and contributes to those in several other countries in the region. Drug-related offences result in severe penalties in this region, including the death penalty in many countries, and prison populations include many people with a history of drug use.
“The conference is an opportunity to develop the emerging interest in drug policy in the region and further promote harm reduction in the region.”
Rick Lines, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association, (IHRA) said: “While there have been some encouraging advances in Harm Reduction and Policy in the MENA region in recent years, the fact remains that there are many countries in the region that continue to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS and instead choose to treat drug use as a criminal justice problem rather than a public health issue. It is long overdue that IHRA is finally bringing the conference to the MENA region and it is our hope that in the long term it serves as a catalyst for change.”
The International Harm Reduction Conference has become the focal point for knowledge sharing, networking and promoting evidence-based best practice in the field of reducing harm from drugs and alcohol. The delegates include front line workers, researchers, policy makers, politicians, people from international organisations, people who use drugs and people working in criminal justice. The conferences have helped to put harm reduction on the map and to coordinate advances, innovations, evidence and advocacy in this field.
International Harm Reduction
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