Dr Abdul Hamid Suhaibi, General Director for Yemen National Program to Fight Aids established that so far 160 new cases of AIDS had been registered for 2013, a trend which is said to be worrying health officials.
All 160 cases were registered in the provinces of Sana'a, Aden, Hodeidah, Taiz and Hadhramawt.
According to a statement issued by the Foundation for Health Awareness and Information Yemen AIDS registrar accounts 3502 cases as of 2012. Most sufferers were infected through pregnancy or illicit sexual relations: prostitution or homosexuality, which both practices are severely punishable by the law in Yemen.
Doctors have often warned that the influx of African refugees in Yemen would pose a serious to public health as many new-comers would be found carrying dangerous infectious diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis or Tuberculosis.
Local newspapers have also warned last week against the employment of African maids as many happened to carry such infectious diseases, often unaware themselves of their conditions, but nevertheless dangerous to public health.
Because African refugees often face abject poverty and little recourse to public funds as UNHCR is trying to cope with the never-ending waves of arrival, many women have reportedly been forced into prostitution, a problem which heightened the risk of AIDS infections. Most people are not aware of their increased vulnerability to HIV infection as they sometimes resort to high-risk behaviors to meet their basic needs.
Because of the social taboo associated to AIDS very few people actually seek to get tested. Officials have so far solely relied on by-chance identifications, through standard blood test and examination in clinics and hospitals by unsuspecting patients.
Moreover, because very few people are actually aware of the disease, not always understanding how it is transmitted and how it manifests, medical staffs are being put at risk, not being able to assess whether a person could be HIV positive or not.
“We know that HIV is escalating and can grow into a major epidemic—as we have seen this happen in other countries,” said Dr Majed Al Gonaid, Deputy Minister of Health in February 2013.
Local authorities are concerned about the lack of HIV information and have partnered with UNAIDS and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to start an HIV awareness raising programme for displaced people.
An NGO, Women Association for Sustainable Development has partnered with OCHA, the For All Foundation for Development and UNAIDS to tackle the issue, raise awareness and help people when needed.
The programme consists of awareness-raising sessions on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and life skills to enable young people living in the camps to protect themselves from HIV.
“Such initiatives should be taking place in all humanitarian programmes,” emphasized Renu Chahil-Graf, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the Middle-East and North Africa. “We hope that it will be seen as a best practice so that we don’t need to wait for peace to arrive to provide HIV services.”