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Derailing AIDS
Published in Daily News Egypt on 28 - 12 - 2005

CAIRO: To mark World AIDS Awareness Month, December 2005, the Ministry of Health and Population, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project Communication for Healthy Living, decided to get on track to increase HIV/AIDS awareness.
In an innovative attempt to gain attention, the ministry engaged a six-car train to make the trip from Alexandria to Aswan. Decorated with promotional messages, the train made nine stops along the way, in eight different governorates. The campaign was targeted primarily at youth. Thirty young men and women boarded the train at each stop to attend information sessions about HIV/AIDS.
A youth parade was also held at various stops along the way. Youth paraded from the AIDS hotline center or health directorate to the train station in an attempt to generate increased awareness. They marched holding banners reading, "No to AIDS and "Together Facing AIDS, distributing flyers and campaign materials as they made their way through the towns.
According to the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, there are approximately 1,800 cases of AIDS and asymptomatic HIV in Egypt today. The World Health Organization (WHO) challenges these statistics, reporting an estimated 8,000 cases of HIV/AIDS in Egypt. Furthermore, in 2004 UNAIDS reports 540,000 cases of HIV/AIDS were documented in MENA, with an estimated 28,000 deaths due to AIDS last year. Experts admit the numbers may be even higher, citing the inability to track and monitor infected patients as a major fallback.
"We have a low number of cases now, but we have all the potential for rapid spread, saysAhmed Ragab, professor of reproductive health at Al- Azhar University and author of the study: "Gender and HIV/AIDS in Egypt: Challenges and Solutions. "We have to guard against it. It is a minor threat now, but it has the potential to be a major threat in the future.
One of the key aims of the campaign was to promote the telephone "hotline established by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Ford Foundation. The hotline will provide callers with accurate information on reproductive health. These activities are believed to be essential in designing and implementing a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS prevention program in Egypt.
Since 1999, USAID has worked with the Family Health International (FHI), other donors, NGOs and the Ministry of Health and Population to improve blood safety, promote blood banks' universal precautions, support the national HIV/AIDS program, and conduct related research.
Over the next year,USAID is planning to assist non-government organizations and local health authorities in working with community groups to increase HIV/AIDS awareness.As the demand for information on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases increases, USAID will work to expand the capabilities of the national HIV/AIDS hotline and counseling center. Other planned activities include an assessment of risk factors for disease transmission via blood, and educational outreach on the risk of sharing syringes or reusing them. USAID will also support the Ministry of Health's efforts to provide appropriate HIV/AIDS care and management.
With the proper care and drug regimen, people with AIDS can live normal lives for years. But, experience from many countries demonstrates that well-informed physicians and caregivers often need to be trained to counsel patients and their families so that they learn the facts about HIV/AIDS.A pilot family training activity to teach inhome basic first aid, and referral systems for comprehensive medical management of AIDS patients are also planned.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - and poses one of the biggest health, social, and economic challenges in the world today. In fact, the National AIDS Trust organization states, "HIV is a global emergency claiming over 8,000 lives every day. According to UNAIDS estimates, there are 38 million adults and 2.3 million children living with HIV, and during 2005 some 4.9 million people became newly infected with the virus. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35.
Activists believe the only way to abolish false stereotypes is through educational campaigns. Since it is impossible to control people's actions, awareness campaigns are the only route for reaching them and ultimately, for preventing an epidemic.
The campaign train made its final stop yesterday in Aswan.

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