HIV infection rates in North Africa and the Middle East are climbing, and the region's media must combat the epidemic by addressing cultural taboos, Mohammed Imad al-Daker, a UNICEF HIV consultant, said Tuesday. The region has 540,000 people living with HIV, compared to 430,000 in 2002. For 2004, United Nations estimates show the disease has killed 28,000 people and infected 92,000 in the region. Dakar noted that while the region still has fewer AIDS cases than others, the rapid rise is alarming.
Daker called on local media to address false beliefs held by conservative Arab societies. "In the Arab world, there are very few national media strategies on AIDS. We need a responsible media to disseminate correct information," Dakar said.
"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," Dakar noted. "Here societies view condoms as an illicit promotion of extramarital 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," he said.