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Empathy key to stopping HIV spread in region.

gender series health lecture raises sensitive topics

Dubai Empathy with those most at risk from contracting HIV and Aids is key to preventing the spread of the disease further across Arab states, a UN Development Programme expert said on Tuesday evening.

"When you do the effort and go and listen with an open mind, and it will help you to listen from the outside, because we are dealing on a daily basis with sex workers and men having sex with men," said Dr Khadija Mualla, HIV/Aids Practice Leader and Regional Coordinator for Arab States, at a Dubai School of Government (DSG) Gender lecture.

"How on earth can I have an open discussion with the men having sex with men if I don't empty myself from prejudices that I've held all my life and be there and just listen; or sex workers, without judging her?"

Empathic listening is crucial, she stressed. In 2006 it was estimated that someone is infected with HIV every 10 minutes in the Arab world, and in 2007 estimates put half a million Arabs living with HIV.

Lack of transparency

However, due to the nature of the disease, social stigma associated with the condition, and a lack of government transparency, exact figures are not known.

The first health-related lecture held in the gender series at DSG raised sensitive topics, including religion, tradition and culture and their relationship to gender and segregation, HIV/Aids, marriage and subsequent subjects considered taboo in the region.

"We have beautiful tradition, but we have really hurtful tradition, and in society... we need to stop any harmful traditions," she said. An excess of report collating and writing also prevents any action being taken, she continued.

Dr Mualla continued that four countries in the Middle East were practicing female genital mutilation (FGM).

Having worked closely with religious leaders, she stressed that this practice is not religious, but cultural. FGM is now spreading across the Gulf.

One recommendation from many suggested at the lecture, was not to hire women that reinforce the lack of women's rights: girls taken for FGM are taken by mothers, sisters or mother-in-laws, Dr Mualla said.

Karen Dias/Gulf News

We have beautiful tradition, but we have really hurtful tradition, and in society... we need to stop any harmful traditions."

Khadija Mualla (left)

HIV/Aids Practice Leader

In 2006 it was estimated that someone is infected with HIV every 10 minutes in the ?Arab world.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Oct 7, 2010
Words:421
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