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Thu 19 Apr 2007 05:45 PM

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Saudi erects more AIDS clinics

AIDS centres to be set up in the KSA's provinces to cut down on patient commutes for treatment.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health announced today it would establish four medical centres for the treatment of AIDS, and 23 other centres for the diagnosis of the disease, to be stationed across the kingdom's provinces.

Dr. Khaled Al-Zahrani, deputy assistant minister for preventive medicine for Saudi Arabia, said the main purpose of the proposed medical centres is to treat AIDS patients in the countryside instead of them having to travel to big cities for treatment.

The new centres will be established in Ahsa, Madinah, Asir and Al-Jouf.

"In 2005, some 11,000 people, including 2,658 Saudis, had AIDS. In 2006, a further 1,390, of them 342 Saudis, were diagnosed to have AIDS. The provinces that recorded high incidence of AIDS included Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, the Eastern Province and Jizan," said Al-Zahrani.

However he added that the increase did not mean there was a growth in the number of infected cases but is an indication that observation techniques in the kingdom have improved.

According to the doctor over 12,000 AIDS-infected people are living in the country. Mr Al-Zahrani said starting from next summer prospective couples will be made to undergo AIDS tests as part of pre-marriage checkups.

"For every five infected men there is one infected woman. Ninety percent of them have caught the virus through sexual relations. Only 10% have caught AIDS through blood transfusion. The people to blame for infection is the youth that are involved in multiple-sexual relationships," said Al-Zahrani.

Three clinics, known as "voluntary clinics," will be located at airports in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah to spread awareness among travellers who may feel ashamed to visit AIDS centres, said Al-Zahrani.

"There will be another 20 voluntary clinics established in other parts of the kingdom. These clinics will include sociologists and psychologists, as well as male and female nurses. People will be able to take advantage of the services there by registering themselves using a serial code number rather than their name and address to ensure privacy. If a patient is discovered to be infected then he will be transferred to specialists to receive the needed medication," said Al-Zahrani.

Last year, Dr Tarek Madin, adviser to the health minister and consultant for contagious diseases for Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that the number of reported AIDS victims (not counting foreign residents) could reach an additional 360 by the end of the year. The health official based his estimate on the growth rate of AIDS cases in the country in the past years.

Only last year, UAE officials acknowledged the presence of HIV/Aids in the country. At the time there were 466 patients receiving treatment. At the end of 2006 statistics revealed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) showed that there were 645 reported cases of AIDS among nationals of the United Arab Emirates.

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