The prevalence of the virus might still be lower than in many other places (0.3% compared to Africa's 8.8%), but infection rates are increasing at an alarming speed (from 2001-03 the rates are 72% in Iran, 68% in Tunisia and 40% in Lebanon).
Ignorance is one of the main factors facilitating the spread of the disease. Understanding of the virus remains very basic in many countries and misconceptions still circulate about how best to treat it.
Many governments have also been complacent about tackling the taboo subjects of sexuality and drug use. World Bank experts hope that by highlighting the economic impact of HIV and Aids, the Middle East will be more proactive about raising awareness and promoting protection.
The World Bank calculated that 0.2%-1.5% a year could be cut off annual GDP growth rates without immediate action. Most of these losses would come in the form of reduced labour productivity, shrinking workforce, declining capital investments and increased healthcare costs.
The Middle East is particularly vulnerable to HIV and Aids because of its demographics: young, with high rates of unemployment, and therefore more prone to drug use and promiscuous behaviour. Most countries, with the notable exception of Iran, have also used a very token, piecemeal approach to tackling HIV and Aids when a comprehensive, coordinated plan would be more appropriate.
Better data, a thorough understanding of infection routes, and cooperation with other governments and international agencies, will be essential to thwart this pernicious disease.
Source: Aids threat in the Middle East
Middle East Economic Digest, Vol 50 No 6
Review by Emilie Filou