AIDS in Gaza: “I know, so I am not afraid”
Fifty-year-old Um Mohammad, a mother of nine, has been living with HIV for 16 years in the Gaza Strip in the occupied Palestinian territory. She was nursing her baby girl when tests revealed she was HIV positive.
“We found out that I got the HIV while I was still breastfeeding my youngest. I got it from my husband,” she says. “I was scared for my baby girl, but thank God, it was not transmitted to her. I was so relieved.”
- The programme has helped test more than 2,100 people in the occupied Palestinian territories for HIV.
- More than 2,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territory have received critical HIV testing and counselling sessions.
- The programme also includes awareness-raising sessions and stigma reduction activities particularly focused toward educating religious leaders, the media, and legal aid professionals.
Um Mohammad spoke at a training workshop for journalists in Gaza organized by the UNDP Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People with financial support from the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund). The training aimed at reducing stigma and provided accurate messages and facts on HIV.
According to the Ministry of Health in the occupied Palestinian territory, the cumulative number of patients with HIV and AIDS since 1987 has reached 72 cases, although problems with under-reporting and HIV surveillance systems means that accurate statistics in the Arab region are difficult to come by.
This is particularly true in Gaza. Out of 29 known cases of people living with HIV recorded in the Gaza Strip as per available statistics, only eight people are still alive and currently receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and support through the UNDP-managed Global Fund programme. In the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole, 21 people with advanced HIV are receiving treatment and 20 persons living with HIV are provided psychosocial support.
The programme also includes critical awareness-raising sessions and stigma reduction activities with a special focus on religious leaders, the media and legal aid professionals. More than 2,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territory have received critical HIV testing and counselling sessions, including Um Mohammad.
"Many people are not aware how of HIV is transmitted", she explains. HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex, transfusion of contaminated blood or from the use of non-sterile injecting equipment.
“I know, so I am not afraid,” she says. “I am able to share with my children their food and utensils and I kiss them good night like every mother. I do the same with my neighbours and relatives.”
Um Mohammad’s husband died four months after he was diagnosed with AIDS and she was left to provide for her family. “I became the mother and father of my nine children,” she says. “I brought them up the best way I can.”
UNDP is the Principal Recipient for Global Fund programmes in a number of countries. In the occupied Palestinian territory, working closely with the Ministry of Health and UN agencies, the Global Fund-supported HIV-programme has significantly contributed to preventing the spread of HIV, as well as to providing treatment and care services to persons living with HIV and AIDS.
The Global Fund has committed US$11 million to the project over a five year period (2009-2013). Today, thanks to the initiative’s efforts, 22 non-governmental organizations are providing HIV and AIDS prevention, awareness and support services in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“It is time now for our society to treat people living with HIV and AIDS like any person who has the right to live, work, learn and receive treatment when sick,” Um Mohammad says.
by Amar Bokhari, Reem Abu Shomar and Dania Darwish
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved