The increasing number of new HIV cases in Egypt is growing by up to 40% a year, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Young and adolescent people are more vulnerable to being infected by the virus that causes AIDS than any other age group.
While, the UN says there are over 11,000 cases of people living with HIV in Egypt, the Egyptian Ministry of Health estimates the figure to be around 7,000.
“There is a 25-30 percent increase in incidents every year…it is alarming to us because of the growth of the epidemic and the discontinuation of interest from donors in funding,” the representative of UNAIDS in the country, Ahmed Khamis, said, according to the Associated Press.
“Most recently, we’ve been seeing people of a much younger age group infected with the virus. There is a higher risk now for adolescents and youths than in the past,” Khamis added.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term which applies to the most advanced stages of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. It is defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.
The HIV infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function. Infection with the virus results in progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to “immune deficiency.”
The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fulfil its role of fighting infection and disease. Infections associated with severe immunodeficiency are known as “opportunistic infections”, because they take advantage of a weakened immune system, according to WHO.
On the occasion of the World AIDS Day at the beginning of December, Egypt’s Ministry of Health announced checking 2,778 cases infected by HIV in the period between January and September 2017. The ministry added that it had provided 3,000 HIV patients with the needed medicine.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health Khaled Megahed said that the ministry is working on integrating patients into society by providing medical and psychological support.
Megahed stressed that Egypt is one of the countries with the lowest rates of HIV cases and spread of the disease. He added that the number of cases in the country in 2016 was 10,550, 0.01% compared to the international rate.
According to Megahed, the number of people living with HIV in Egypt is 8,564, 82% of them males, while 18% are females. He explained that 75% of these cases are identified in people between the ages of 15 and 50.
Chief of the Central Agency of Preventive Affairs at the Ministry of Health, Alaa Eid, said that the ministry is working on a plan to maintain the low rates of the disease’s spread in Egypt, preparing to announce the country as free of HIV in 2030.
“The ministry is working on the national program of HIV, which includes boosting labs services through 24 centres for giving advice and optional checks in 18 governorates. The program also includes providing medical service through fever hospitals and drug rehabilitation centres,” said Eid.
He added that one of the ministry’s goals is to provide medical service to patients without social stigma or discrimination inside medical institutions.
According to WHO, HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex with an infected person, transfusion of contaminated blood, and the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, or other sharp instruments. It may also be transmitted between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
The length of time that a person infected with HIV develops AIDS can vary widely between individuals. Left without treatment, the majority of people infected with HIV will develop signs of HIV-related illness within 5-10 years, although this can be shorter.
The time between acquiring HIV and an AIDS diagnosis is usually between 10 and 15 years, but sometimes longer. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow the disease progression by preventing the virus replicating and therefore decreasing the amount of virus in an infected person’s blood (known as the ‘viral load’), according to WHO.