After more than 25 years since the discovery of HIV, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) is the only area on the globe where epidemiological data and general understanding about the disease continue to be very limited.
A new report published by the World Bank, in a joint effort with the U.N. and WHO, provides the first comprehensive scientific assessment and data-driven epidemiological analysis of HIV in MENA today.
The report is titled Characterizing the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa: Time for Strategic Action.
Recommendations include the need for data, expanded research, evidence-based policy, prevention efforts and general awareness to combat stigma and discrimination. The authors also advocate a shift in focus away from law enforcement and toward medical risk and vulnerability.
The U.N. Development Program and UNAIDS are examining whether criminalization of certain high-risk behaviors drives the disease underground and what that might mean for the Middle East, which also imposes travel restrictions on people with HIV.
People who use drugs intravenously are the highest risk group for HIV. The entire MENA region is flooded with inexpensive drugs due to record levels of heroin production in Afghanistan, the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s supply. Intravenous drug use is a growing problem, especially in Pakistan and Iran, which has the highest rate of heroin and opium dependence in the world, according to the report. The two other populations in the highest risk category include men who have sex with men and female sex workers.