- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2005

AIDS threatens to overwhelm many predominantly Muslim countries, whose leaders remain in a state of denial of crisis, doing little to stem the deadly problem.

In one of the most comprehensive reports on AIDS covering the Muslim world, analysts warned of serious repercussions if governments continued to ignore the crisis.

A report released by the Seattle-based think tank, the National Bureau of Asian Research, said: “If leaders continue to ignore the problem, AIDS could debilitate or even destabilize some of these societies by killing large numbers of people in the 15-to-49-year age group.”

“What is especially troubling to behold is the reluctance to admit that Muslims engage in exactly those same dangerous behaviors that support the transmission and spread of HIV/AIDS elsewhere,” the report said, blaming “deeply rooted cultural and religious attitudes.”

“This reluctance even to recognize the problem will only accelerate the epidemic and make it more difficult for the international community to provide meaningful support and treatment.”

This would deprive the Muslim countries of some of their best, brightest and most economically productive members, say Laura Kelley and Nicholas Eberstadt, authors of the report.

An infectious-disease specialist, Miss Kelley previously had undertaken AIDS research for the U.S. National Intelligence Council and had studied other diseases for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the principal foreign-aid agency of the United States. Mr. Eberstadt is a scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“An important take-home message for all Muslim nations is that real behaviors on the streets are sometimes in marked contrast to the expected behaviors of good Muslims, and that is something that leaders in these countries must deal with,” Miss Kelley said.

The report said that even though the Muslim world was riven by premarital sex, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and intravenous-drug use — which help spread the HIV virus that causes AIDS — many governments have been slow to respond to the rapidly spreading disease.

“We would have thought the Muslim world was in a sense vaccinated from this kind of pandemic, but in fact, the dreadful news is that it is not,” said Michael Birt, the director of the Center for Health at the National Bureau of Asian Research. “Now with the Muslim world becoming involved, it is truly a global crisis.”

Miss Kelley proposed “sweeping legal changes” to reduce the social stigma associated with the disease and protect the AIDS sufferers in Muslim nations “to ensure them medical treatment, employment and discourage suicide.”

The Muslim world of more than 1 billion people covers three continents — from Albania and Turkey in Europe, across countries bordering the Sahara in North Africa, and through the Persian Gulf and South Asia to Malaysia and Indonesia in the East, the report said.

Officially, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates the total HIV population of North Africa, the Middle East, and predominantly Muslim Asia at nearly 1 million people.

At the end of 2003, UNAIDS estimated that as many as 420,000 people in Mali, 180,000 in Indonesia, 150,000 in Pakistan, and 61,000 in Iran had HIV/AIDS.

“Those numbers, however, are severely understated,” Miss Kelley and Mr. Eberstadt said in a separate report in Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

They said UNAIDS figures depended upon surveillance data — “thus a lack of information can be taken as a lack of infection.”

UNAIDS data on the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is completely missing for Afghanistan, Turkey and Somalia, “all nations with large numbers of at-risk populations,” they said.

The study cited Iran and Bangladesh as having Muslim governments that seem to be combating the problem effectively.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide