There’s well-deserved praise for sub-Saharan African countries like Botswana, eSwatini and Namibia in making strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS. On this December 1, the thirtieth anniversary of World AIDS Day, the eastern and southern regions of Africa still remain most affected by the HIV epidemic. It’s where 45 percent of the world’s HIV infections are reported, and where 53 percent of people living with HIV call home.
So it makes sense to honor their achievements and remaining challenges, but there’s another part of the African continent that’s often overlooked. All of the North African countries, including Djibouti and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, fall into the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) region. Unlike much of the world, which is seeing welcome declines, new HIV infections there are on the rise.
In fact, this “hidden epidemic” is one with the highest rate of increase among all WHO regions, says EMRO director Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari. Two-thirds of the region’s new cases in 2017 came from Egypt and Sudan, along with Iran, according to UNAIDS. There also are wide variations among nations. Morocco has boosted its HIV efforts and has a national harm reduction strategy, while more than 50 percent of HIV-positive people in Algeria say they’ve been denied health care because of it.
The estimated number of new EMRO infections increased by 28 percent from 29,000 infections in 2010 to 36,000 in 2017, according to WHO. An estimated 350,000 people are living with HIV in the EMRO nations, but just a third of them are aware of their status and only 18 percent have access to treatment. That falls well short of the 90 percent targets for 2020 established by UNAIDS.
“As the HIV epidemic in the region expands, we can no longer wait to scale up access to more comprehensive packages for prevention, testing and treatment,” Al-Mandhari said. “The time for action is now.”
For more information on North Africa and the Middle East, check the “Miles to Go” report from UNAIDS.