Bahrain plans 'secret' Aids centres
Manama, June 16, 2008
The first of a nationwide chain of anonymous Aids testing centres will be set up in Manama in a month, it was declared.
Its location will be finalised in the next few days, said National Sexually Transmitted Diseases Programme manager Dr Somaya Al Jowder.
"We are looking at various options, but have narrowed it down to the Public Health Directorate and the Red Crescent Society headquarters," she said.
She said Bahrain would be the second country in the region after Saudi Arabia to set up such centres.
A new set of proposals are also in the offing for comprehensive Aids checks on Indian housemaids coming to work in Bahrain, Dr Al Jowder told a Press conference at the Health Ministry.
This is being done after it has been revealed that the majority of expatriate women sufferers from Aids are Indian housemaids," she said.
A similar set of measures had been put in place a few years ago when it was revealed the majority of expatriate women sufferers were housemaids from Ethiopia.
"There will be an enhanced level of vigil and more comprehensive tests may also be done as part of the measures," said Dr Al Jowder.
She is fresh home from the United Nations headquarters in New York, after taking part in the first HIV/TB Global Leaders' Forum.
The Bahrain delegation at the event was led by Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer.
Global leaders were briefed on the progress Bahrain has made in combating HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in the last two years.
Dr Al Jowder said the "secret" Aids centres were an attempt to reach hundreds of people who may be infected without being aware of it.
"While we know there were 91 Aids sufferers out of those tested in Bahrain in 2007, there may be as many others who could be infected without knowing they are," she said. "That is the reason why we wanted an anonymous screening programme, to remove the barriers of fear and social stigma.
"We conducted pre-marital tests on 10,000 Bahrainis last year for Aids and found only one of them was HIV positive. That is an encouraging sign, since we know the awareness campaigns are reaching somewhere."
She said it was also revealed that most of those infected were due to unprotected sex, while some were infected as a result of improper use of syringes. "There is a greater awareness among the people on unprotected sex, since Industry and Commerce Ministry figures have revealed there is a marked increase in the import of condoms into the country," said Dr Al Jowder.
She said of the 91 cases which tested positive in 2007, 68 were non-Bahrainis.
Among the Bahrainis, 90 per cent were men and the rest women. "While it was revealed most men got infected due to improper use of syringes, almost all the women, it was revealed, were infected by their husbands," said Dr Al Jowder.
She said 325 Bahrainis and 500 non-Bahrainis had tested positive for Aids between 1986 and the end of 2006.
The anonymous testing centres will help people otherwise afraid to come forward, for fear of the social stigma.
"It is vital that we establish a system that encourages those who want to remain anonymous to come forward and have their blood tested for HIV and Aids," said Dr Al Jowder.
She said the plan was to have a centre in each governorate, starting with one in the Manama area.-TradeArabia News Service