Maldives identifies “first” child HIV infection

Senior health figures have called on the government, NGOs and members of the private sector to help step up attempts to promote AIDS prevention in the country after authorities discovered that a two year-old child had tested HIV positive earlier this year.

While accepting that HIV infection rates remained relatively low in the Maldives, Minister of State for Health Lubna Zahir Hussain said that efforts needed to be increased across all sectors of society to tackle attitudes towards high-risk behaviours that allow the virus to be transmitted.

Lubna heads the National Drug Agency (NDA). Her comments followed the hosting of a special NDA workshop on HIV prevention held on December 1 to commemorate World AIDS Day. The workshop was focused particularly on the HIV infection through drug abuse.

Though statistics indicate HIV infection rates have been limited in the Maldives over the space of the last two decades, health officials in the Maldives have begun to raise concerns about the risk of cases spreading across the country.

In October Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed claimed it was only through “incredible luck” that HIV had not spread across the Maldives, considering the prolific levels of unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.

Addressing concerns raised by Health Minister Jamsheed about the potential scope for HIV to spread beyond high-risk communities such as drug users, Lubna said greater effort was needed to address attitudes of the general public to the spread of the virus.

“I think what the health minister was saying is that it is not only people living bad lifestyles that are at risk [of HIV infection],” she said, reiterating concerns about the number of young people engaged in intravenous drug use and potentially dangerous sexual practices.

She spoke about a child who was suspected of having been infected from her mother at birth.

“We were first made aware of the case in April 2012 and as far as I know, this is the first case [of a child in the Maldives being born HIV positive],” she said. “However, I think it is important for the public to know the reality of the situation right now, whilst respecting [the child’s] privacy and well being.”

Lubna said she was ultimately encouraged by the work of the country’s health authorities in trying to address the HIV risk from national attitudes towards sex and drug use in the country, yet warned against complacency.

“This doesn’t mean that we continue to work at this pace to try and address attitudes towards AIDS and its spread,” she said.

Lubna called on civil society, the business community and government to speed up efforts to hold awareness and education events about the dangers posed through unprotected sex and intravenous drug use, and to promote preventative measures to reduce the national HIV risk.

Attempts have been made to work with local drug NGOs such as Male’-based Journey on running special outreach programs and blood tests to try and monitor and manage infection rates.

However Lubna said that drug use was not the only area of concern in trying to curb HIV infection.

“Prostitution is another area that needs to be looked into. Awareness work in this area needs to be seen immediately,” she said.

She said greater awareness was needed not just among the general public, but by government authorities and law enforcement agencies.

First Lady’s concerns

During the NDA workshop, First Lady Ilham Hussain stressed that growing numbers of the country’s youth were subjected to dangerous habits that could potentially lead to HIV infection.  She highlighted recreational drug use in particular as the leading cause of the virus spreading nationally.

“Incredible luck”

Speaking earlier this year on the issue of HIV infection rates, Health Minister Jamsheed said that although the Maldives had remained on the HIV less-prevalent category since the first HIV positive case was found in 1991, “all the habits that may lead to the spread of HIV is excessively in practice here,” stating that it was only through “incredible luck” that the disease had not already spread widely throughout the country.

“What has always worried me most is that there is a large drug community, and that the virus might find its way into this group, especially the IV drug users. Once it does, it will spread like wild fire,” he said at the time.

“I don’t think this is too far off now. We have already identified one IV drug user who has been infected with HIV. What’s left is to see how much this has spread,” Jamsheed revealed.

Jamsheed said that he believed there were issues which needed to be opened to a “national debate” in order to move forward and take stronger preventive measures.

“We can simply stay inactive and keep talking for any amount of time by assuming the moral highground,’ Jamsheed said at Sunday’s press conference.

“That is to claim that we are Muslims, and by living in a Muslim state in Muslim ways we are doubtless protected from this disease. But that is never the reality anywhere in the world,” he said.

Jamsheed said it was unrealistic to assume all Muslims to live as “perfect Muslims”, and that even if they were, there was still a chance of infection. He stated that HIV is not transferred through sexual activity or visits to prostitutes alone.

In 2011, a total of 18 HIV positive cases were reported, out of which one was of a local. Between 1991 and 2011, 15 HIV cases were reported among Maldivians, while 168 cases of expatriate workers were also filed. Two out of the 15 cases were female, and all patients cited heterosexual transmission as the cause of infection.


9 thoughts on “Maldives identifies “first” child HIV infection”

  1. Where's Sheikh Imran? Surely, the Sheikh must raise the awareness of the believers, as only 'haram' acts such as homosexuality and drug use lead to this punishment from Allah, otherwise known as AIDS.

    Oh, I forgot! The good Sheikh has a very busy schedule and has no time for such minor irritations, since there are much bigger jobs at hand, including the eviction of cow worshippers from the Maldives.

    I am sure the good Sheikh will attend to minor matters such as AIDS once he has freed himself from the present Jihad.

  2. Continued denial will lead to an uncontrolled epidemic. Try to implement preventive strategies before we reach that stage.

    In the US, when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the media, Reagan's government ignored and maintained a policy of silence. It took 3 years and 36000 deaths for him to finally even mention the disease in his official capacity. Silence equals death.

    And blaming homosexuality or punishing them won't help either. That would only drive them deeper underground where they'd indulge in risky behavior. We need to get them involved and screen them and inform them about the risk. Fiery sermons, abstinence or threat of jail will not work. What is needed is sex education, use of condoms, and tackling the drug problem.

  3. As if making the people aware of drugs, alcohol and smoking had made them leave the damned habit, for gods sake, the companies now put a label like drink responsibly to deceive the people and to lure them unconsciously, only a fool will think of people responding to a label than the bottle itself!

    @Ahmed bin..
    When the hour is near, what the good sheikh says, will not be of any use instead the bad will rein over the good and the good will be mocked at made fun of, and views discarded like trash. You think the all and powerful countries are free of the disease, well! think again and look at the Aids estimation around Europe and America.

    Why is such a disease on us, surely it cannot be an accident or brought about by Apes, it's there for a reason!!

  4. why everything goes to Imran ? I guess fall of Anni is partly due to action of Imran.

    But the majority of Maldivian do not want Anni as the president of this country ever and then?

  5. shimy, please report to the nearest hospital and have yourself put down. You are too stupid to be alive.

  6. Hey something is not right here. Over 90% HIV in Maldives is due to unprotected sex, sexual abuse in the community.

    Less than 5% can be blamed on drugs abusers. It is damn cheap to get sterilized syringes to dop and Maldivians drug abusers aint stupid to share needles.

    Yes they may be stupid to have unsafe sex. Local prostitution from Maldivian young girls is a concern. The rate of Rf.500 for a quick f...k is so common that girls would make at least Rf. 3000 a day, easily...of course unprotected!

    it's happening everywhere and we all know

  7. @Ahmed Bin Addu Bin Suvadheeb: Brother that was an excellent point.

    Over the years I have been very disappointed by the causes I have seen the Religious leaders of the Maldives take up.

    They wage battles over seemingly trivial things like graves at Mosques and discos. Or else they wage battles for political gain.

    In earlier America, many Christian preachers supported right wing slave holding types and justified it through their Bibles. However, Christian leaders with a different interpretation of the Bible - and - they were allowed to have a different interpretation as they had relative religious freedom, lead the moral struggle against slavery. Christian preachers lead the moral struggle both for and against women's votes. A Christian leader, Martin Luther King Jr., lead the struggle for civil rights.

    I guess I would have loved to have seen Maldivian Religious leaders inspire and lead a struggle - an "inner Jihad' against drugs, for example. I would have loved to have seen them lead a struggle against the lack of further education opportunities for all.

    The only Maldivian Cleric I have seen espouse humanitarian values publicaly to the point of risking his life for it was Dr. Afrasheem. I was in Male' when he was attacked in the Mosque for stating that music was not Haraam, years ago. He paid the ultimate price, and, I love his spirit for that forever.

    I would have loved to have seen Maldivian Religious clerics wage a struggle against the attitude of being in politics for power alone. They should, for example, emphasize that being the 'Servant leader' they all boast of being means not rejecting a rival MP for disagreeing with you, or for siding with someone who hates you.

    The basic humanitarian values which make democracy work should be inspired by the Sheik's.

    Perhaps, the issue may be that religious scholars who can use religion to inspire human rights and democratic values are more interested in preserving their reputation - their face - their power (social and political support) than in loving humanity.

    Perhaps they do not have the amount of love required for the courage to make the sacrifices for humanity necessary.

  8. "Faridi says two years ago he thought the disease was a mortal sin, the product of improper sexual relations. But that all that changed when he met those involved in the programme.
    "I was a bit reluctant as I thought it would make me complicit in a big sin, but I was curious and decided to attend a briefing," he said.
    It changed Faridi's mind and now he is helping to change the perception among a large number of Pakistanis who still think AIDS infects only those involved in illicit or gay sexual relations.
    "I tell people that AIDS victims are not sinners but suffer from a disease like any other people who suffer from other kinds of diseases," said Faridi."


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