Though Qatar and other GCC countries have some of the toughest rules regarding people with HIV and AIDS, officials here have told Al Jazeera that the taboo is slowly starting to fade, such that some expats who have been diagnosed with the disease have not been automatically deported.
Expats who immigrate to Gulf countries are required to undergo blood screenings for infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. Typically, those who are found to have such diseases are sent home.
But that’s not the whole story with regards to the GCC and AIDS, Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, an investigator at of Cornell’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group, told AJE:
“Generally speaking, there has been tremendous progress over the last ten years. Surveillance work, and prevention, and intervention programs have begun, whereas a decade ago governments wouldn’t recognize [HIV] existed in their country, especially due to MSM (men who has sex with other men), injection drug users and sex workers.”
Dr. Abdullatif Al-Khal, who works at HMC’s Clinical AIDS Program, added that Qatar is currently providing free treatment for some 98 patients with AIDS (both nationals and expats), including clinic visits, blood testing, antiretroviral treatment and counseling.
And HMC officials said expats with HIV/AIDS who have a “stable” family life and employment are allowed to remain in Qatar, AJE reports:
But for those expatriates in the country alone, working low-wage, low-skill professions, the chances of being allowed to stay are slim.
“We ask that they go back home, that they resign from their job, that they get their benefits, without informing their employer, trying to keep confidentiality as much as possible,” Al-Khal says.
Some healthcare officials have argued that this method creates a public health issue in migrants’ home countries, where infected expats are sent without a treatment plan.
In December 2011, for example, a senior Al Jazeera editor who underwent medical testing and was found to be HIV positive said he was arrested and then deported. He has since filed a lawsuit against Qatar and the channel for how he was treated.
Fear of such treatment could also keep expats who contract TB or HIV while in Qatar from coming forward, potentially spreading the disease.
Meanwhile, attitudes toward those with AIDS continue to reflect a lack of understanding about the disease.
According to a recent Qatar Statistics Authority study, the majority of people in Qatar have heard of AIDS, but most are unaware of how it is transmitted. And only 3 percent of young women and 6 percent of men express accepting attitudes toward people living with AIDS.
Credit: Photo by World Bank