Qatar has made tangible progress combating HIV/Aids which the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 calls for and achieved much on its two targets, according to an expert. The Integration of HIV treatment and prevention in the already existing health Services is the key strategy for Qatar National Aids programme to combat the epidemic and to deliver the services for those in need.
“Qatar is epidemiologically classified as a country with low HIV prevalence with an average of 10 new cases diagnosed each year. The cumulative number of HIV/Aids cases reported through 2010 was 254 in Qatar,” said Dr Hussam Al Soub, Consultant, Infectious Diseases, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, Weill Cornel Medical College-Qatar.
He was speaking at the Qatar Symposium: Family, the Millennium Development Goals and Aids in the Middle East and North Africa region. Organised by the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development (DIIFSD), the Qatar Symposium is organised in cooperation with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Qatar’s health care providers are currently following-up treatment and care of some 84 people living with HIV/Aids (PLWHA). Despite the unprecedented population growth Qatar has been witnessing over the last decade, the epidemic has not grown. The current HIV prevalence rate is low and estimated to be less than 0.02 percent of the total population in 2007 and 0.34 per 100,000 population aged between 15 and 24 years in 2009, according to reports.
According to earlier reports, three new cases were reported in Qatar in 2001 and in 2002, 15 cases were detected. The number of new cases reported in 2003 was eight, followed by 11 in 2004, 14 in 2005, nine in 2006 and at least seven in 2007. In 2009 some five cases were diagnosed and last year six new cases were detected.
“However, Qatar has made major progress on MDG 6 and its two HIV/Aids targets on ‘having halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/Aids by 2015’, and ‘achieving universal access to HIV/Aids treatment for all those who need it by 2010’. Qatar National Aids programme aims to combat the epidemic and to deliver the services for those in need,” he said.
The national Aids programme focuses on integration of HIV treatment and prevention in already existing healthcare services here.
Integration of services in Qatar is aimed to increase access to and use of HIV/Aids care and support services for PLWHA and most at risk group. It strengthens the capacity to deliver HIV/Aids services including Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and treatment of other infections. It also aims t have a cost effective and sustainable HIV/Aids delivery system that provides accessible, available and acceptable services .
AIDS care in Qatar involves integration of HIV counselling and testing services into existing services as Tuberculosis, and Sexually transmitted or reproductive tract infection (STI/RTI) treatments.
It also involves introducing Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services and Preventing Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) counselling in women and paediatric care settings apart from introducing a referral pathway for HIV/Aids cases.
“The integration of HIV/AIDS services was seen to be acceptable to both male and females, and it was more advanced when complemented by advocacy initiatives.
Training programmes were also given to healthcare providers, which had positive impact on providers’ attitudes towards PLWA. The system encouraged people to seek VCT, and follow-up treatment for positive cases and reduced hospitalization along with sharp increase in visits for all services. Encouraging people to ascertain their HIV status can help them gain access to appropriate care and treatment for HIV. We learned that integration of services can increases access to services,” he said
However, the continuing stigma associated with STI/ RTI has a negative impact on service utilization, which is still a major challenge to integrated care here. Insufficient training made counsellors embarrassed to discuss the issues and cultural barriers were also a challenge to discussion of sexuality issues, here.
“A key lesson Qatar has understood is that HIV/AIDS services should be just another service in the package of Primary Healthcare or other services offered, rather than converting a clinic into an ‘HIV/AIDS centre’,” he stressed.
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