Friday, 11 December 2009

HIV and Aids

I wear an Aids red ribbon on both my jackets, and it is amazing how many people here stop me and ask what it represents. It makes me aware of the difference between Israel and Africa. In Africa, the ribbon was everywhere and easily recognisable, and everyone was affected by Aids. In Israel/ Palestine it seems that it has a far lower profile.

In early December, just after World Aids Day, I travelled to Shafa Amr, arguably the 2nd biggest Arab town in Israel (after Nazareth), to visit the Galilee Society, whose HIV and Aids work is supported by the Church of Scotland’s HIV/AIDS Project.

The Galilee Society is actually one of the longest established NGO in the Arab community, and I was amazed and impressed to discover a modern building with superb facilities, including several labs and a staff of over 40. The Society has several different wings, including research (into wastewater, for example), environmental concerns and data processing. Their HIV and Aids project is part of the health justice wing, run by Mohammed Khatib. There is no hospital in Shafa Amr, so most patients prefer to go to the hospitals in Nazareth, which are run by the churches (like the Edinburgh Medical Mission Society hospital), though the government hospitals in Haifa are also very good. One problem is that many of the medical pamphlets are written only in Hebrew, and many of the Palestinian women especially do not necessarily read Hebrew, so miss out on advice.

The HIV pamphlets are all in Arabic. Numbers in the Palestinian community who are infected are relatively small - only 10 new cases in the last year - but that doesn’t mean to say that we can relax. Mohammed and his team go out, for example, to schools to raise awareness and try to train young people as peer educators. They recognise that young people in the Palestinian community are more open than ever before to outside (particularly Western) influences and thus more open to infection. They also continue to meet resistance, as the stigma of being HIV+ is still great in Israel.

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