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Struggle to raise HIV awareness as first official AIDS-related deaths reported

[Afghanistan] AIDS awareness play performed in Kabul on World AIDS Day.
AIDS awareness play performed in Kabul on World AIDS Day
Anisa Wahab, a well-known Afghan actress, presented a drama on the lack of HIV/AIDS awareness in Afghan families, as officials, aid workers and UN agency representatives gathered in the capital Kabul, to mark World AIDS Day on Wednesday. “I have no place in society, everyone curses me, everyone is scared of me,” Wahab cried out as she assumed the character of an HIV-positive Afghan returnee. The awareness-raising play, that is due to go on tour around the country in 2005, is being performed at a time when the disease has claimed its first official victims. An Afghan returnee and his children died last month of an AIDS-related illness, according to the health ministry. “Unfortunately we have 31 clinically proven HIV/AIDS cases and of course we have to take it seriously and raise awareness on prevention in order to control this pandemic,” Dr Suhaila Sadiq, Afghan Minister of Public Health, told IRN on Wednesday. Available data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan are very limited, although infection rates are thought to be many times higher than the official count. The play and other awareness-raising devices are being aimed at groups clearly identified as high-risk, especially intravenous drug users, returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). “The 31 cases have been confirmed through blood screening countrywide, however, we are estimating between 600 and 700 cases in the country,” Doctor Naqibullah Safi, national programme manager for HIV/AIDS at the Ministry of Public Health, told IRIN. But low levels of literacy and the fact that many women and girls – the groups now statistically most at risk - are often confined to the home, make educating the population about the risks a formidable task. “The challenges are how to convey the message to the people, mainly to the women who cannot read and write and cannot go outside their homes,” he said. This year’s UN-sponsored event focused on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women, who now make up to around 50 percent of adult HIV cases worldwide. In Afghanistan, women are considered more vulnerable to AIDS because of their low status in society, widespread unawareness about the disease, illiteracy and poverty that sometimes forces them to turn to prostitution to support their families.
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