Health officials in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region have said they lack anti-retroviral drugs and the necessary equipment for testing for the HI virus and that they have been instructed by health authorities in Baghdad to deport foreigners who have been found HIV-positive.
“We do not have drugs. If a person tests HIV-positive, what we do is ask the WHO [World Health Organisation] to help us by sending drugs,” said Dr Sayfadin Mohadyin Ahmad, head of the epidemic diseases section and HIV/AIDS unit in Kurdistan’s Ministry of Health.
Nawzad Abdul-Aziz Salih, an official from Kurdistan’s Ministry of Health, said on Sunday that there were nine known cases of people living with HIV/AIDS in the northern cities of Dohuk and Arbil. All tested positive between 2005 and 2006 and were now aware of their condition, he said.
Soham Yousef, head of the bacteriology section at the department of health protection in Arbil, said that seven other cases of people living with HIV/AIDS were registered in Arbil two years ago. Yousef added that the seven cases in Arbil were all foreigners and they have been deported to their countries of origin as per the instructions of central government in Baghdad.
“Now, there are four people in Arbil who are suspected of being HIV-positive - two women from Ethiopia, another from Lebanon and the last one is Turkish,” Yousef said.
Dr Wadah Hamed, director of the AIDS Research Centre (ARC) in Baghdad, said the health ministry’s deportation policy was fair. “Those who are in good health condition are deported to their country of origin and those with delicate health conditions receive adequate treatment in Iraq until they are well enough to travel to their countries,” Hamed said.
Hamed said that the main problem countrywide in Iraq with regard to HIV/AIDS was the lack of drugs to treat it and the lack of the latest kits for testing for the HI virus.
“We have asked government officials to look for funds for HIV/AIDS programmes in Iraq and international organisations to expand their HIV/AIDS awareness in the country,” Hamed said.
Hamed added that the problems of identifying and treating HIV/AIDS in the Kurdish region were compounded by the lack of coordination between health authorities in that region and Baghdad clinics dealing with people living with HIV/AIDS. As a result, he said, the number of infected people has increased and this, together with low public awareness of the need for HIV testing, has increased the risk of an epidemic in the coming years.
“There are some new cases of Iraqis being infected with the HI virus and this is a serious problem. We should be realistic and not say that only foreigners in Iraq are infected with it,” he said.
Ahmad, the head of the AIDS unit in Kurdistan, also denied that the people who were found to be HIV-positive in Kurdistan were all foreigners.
"Some sources say that all registered cases [in Kurdistan] were foreigners and there were no local cases in the region, but this is not true. The fact is that we have not done any survey to determine the level of HIV infection in the region. There may well be other cases we do not know of,” Ahmed said.
"We should take action before we have an HIV epidemic. The formation of NGOs dealing with HIV/AIDS could be helpful.”
According to Salih, Kurdistan’s Ministry of Heath press officer, the health ministry was coordinating with the Ministry of Interior and other ministries in the region to devise strategies of raising public awareness of HIV/AIDS. The WHO and the UN children agency (UNICEF) are also involved in these efforts, he said.
“We have organised different activities, including seminars, the publication of posters to coincide with 1 December [World AIDS Day]. Also, we are producing a film with the cooperation of UNICEF to be shown on TV channels to promote public awareness," Salih said.
Overall, Iraq has had low prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, but sources in the Central Health Ministry believe that an influx of foreign troops and foreign fighters since the US-led occupation of Iraq began in 2003 might have increased figures.
At present, about 100 Iraqis infected with the HI virus have been registered at ARC in Baghdad, although Hamad said he believed the number of people living with HIV/AIDS could be higher as not all people infected with the virus have been registered.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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