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Last week I wrote about the state of HIV/AIDs in Iran, where prevention and support have been improving in spite of some key challenges. Iran leads the way in the Middle East in this regard thanks to ongoing initiatives, charities, and campaigns that aim to advance treatment and prevent contraction. Other countries, like the United Arab Emirates, may have a further way to go.

In the UAE, HIV is considered low prevalence, but it’s also thought to be significantly under-reported. Doctors here are required by law to report certain infectious diseases (like HIV and AIDS) to the authorities, a policy that can lead to deportation or other legal repercussions. It’s no wonder those who are most at risk, like sex workers and drug users, are afraid to get tested.

In addition to legal ramifications, the disease’s persistent social stigma tacitly encourages patients to suffer in silence. They fear judgement and the insensitivity not only from society, but from doctors who may lack compassion and discretion. Many are so fearful of the possibility of infection, they’re hesitant to ask for STD screening at all. Without testing and the treatment to follow, the disease is left to progress and potentially endanger others. It’s estimated that more than half of HIV patients spread the infection because they’re unaware of their condition.

Some private clinics have begun to offer confidential STD screenings in Dubai, which are available to anyone. In violation of federal policy, these clinics keep test results private so that more people can catch HIV/AIDs in its early stages to get treatment quickly and avoid transmission. Many of such clinics do charge an extra fee to keep results hidden, however, raising suspicions as to their motives.

UAE society at large lacks understanding and awareness of the virus, which is not helped by a huge dearth in data and statistics. If there were a central, public database, awareness could be spread and progress tracked. As it is, there is little transparency about the gravity of the epidemic, making prevention and support hard to come by.

The same initiatives that are benefiting Iran could do the same for UAE, like online educational pages, awareness campaigns, clinics, and needle distribution. In the meantime, outside organizations like amfAR continue their mission to end the epidemic in UAE and the rest of the world through research, development, policy proposals and fundraising events.

Reza Mostafavi Tabatabaei is an entrepreneur, investor, activist and international businessman who specializes in the oil and gas industry. Mostafavi Tabatabaei has a uniquely global understanding of how oil is procured and priced in markets spanning Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America, which you can read out more about on his adjacent website RezaMostafaviTabatabaei.net

Photo: USAID Asia via Flickr