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'People of all ages, social status and races are equally vulnerable' to AIDS

'People of all ages, social status and races are equally vulnerable' to AIDS
Beirut hosts conference on disease 'to show solidarity with the rest of the world' on international awareness day

In the HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan for Lebanon, Walid Ammar, director general of the Public Health Ministry, wrote that "despite the intense international efforts to control the spread of the epidemic HIV/AIDS remains a major threat to world development in all aspects: human, financial and economic."

"The epidemic does not spare any part of the world and people from all ages, social status and races are equally vulnerable," he added.

In conjunction with thousands of other events held around the world on Saturday, Lebanon helped to commemorate World AIDS Day with a news conference that was sponsored by the International Labor Organization and the Health Ministry's National AIDS Program at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beirut.

The program, which works jointly between the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO), is the first line of defense in Lebanon for blocking the spread of AIDS.

Mustafa al-Nakib, director of the National AIDS Program, said that every year Lebanon takes part in World AIDS day by showing solidarity with the rest of the world through raising awareness of the issue.

"The conference was a great success. Ministers, AIDS patients, international NGOs and Lebanese from all over Lebanon came to help raise awareness and support combating the spread of AIDS," he said.

The conference also served another purpose: to draw focus on the launching of voluntary counseling and testing centers for HIV (VCTs).

"The National AIDS Program worked very hard, in conjunction with NGOs, to help create these VCTs for the Lebanese," Nakib said.

"There are now roughly 20 centers throughout Lebanon," he added.

The objective of VCTs is to help communities and NGOs alike in playing a decisive role in curbing the spread of HIV among youth and at-risk sectors of the population. These centers allow for early detection and treatment.

"The National AIDS Program, in partnership with NGOs, has helped build capacity to address the HIV/AIDS problem," Nakib said.

He concluded by issuing a word of warning to the Lebanese, saying: "We must take every precaution to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and must work hard to protect ourselves."

As of the end of October 2007, the number of diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS in Lebanon had officially reached 1,052.

In 1988 the Lebanese government declared HIV/AIDS a serious public health risk. The following year the National AIDS Program was founded. Since 1994 the government has allocated a special yearly budget line to support its activities and prevention programs.

In Lebanon, the most frequent mode of transmission of the virus is through sexual activity, which accounts for 70 percent of all cases. The group most at risk are individuals from the 31-50 age bracket, who account for 52 percent of all those infected (on a 4.5/1 men-to-women ratio).

A five-year preventative campaign which began in 2005 under the slogan "Stop AIDS. Keep the promise" operates every year under a different theme. Last year's theme of "accountability" has been replaced by this year's theme of "leadership."

One of the main mottos of this year's theme is: "Leadership must begin in schools, which families, in places of work and worship. Take the lead - wherever you are."

And some companies have followed on the theme of "leadership" and have already begun "taking the lead" toward combating AIDS in the workplace.

In particular, Boecker Public Health SAL, the largest pest management company in the Middle East, has emerged as a leader in Lebanon's fight against HIV/AIDS.

Boecker adopted an HIV workplace policy based on non-discrimination and non-stigmatization in the workplace, non-mandatory HIV testing, and education programs following a signed memorandum of understanding with the International Labor Organization.

"The aim is to educate our staff about the dangers of AIDS. And the results have been very good. The entire staff was happy about it because it shows that we care about them," said Hana Kalash Kobrosly, country manager for Boecker.

"The whole goal is to prevent it. Prevention and knowledge are simple, so we are also starting this policy in all our divisions throughout the Middle East in the hopes that other companies also begin implementing similar plans," Kobrosly said.

"It's a simple thing to do," she added, "so why not do it?"

Beirut 03-12-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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