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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Saudis report jump in Aids cases
By Paul Wood
BBC correspondent in Cairo

The ministry of health in Saudi Arabia has announced that the kingdom has registered more than 6,700 cases of Aids. Of these, it says just 1,509 are Saudi nationals.

Riyadh skyline
The figures were announced by the health ministry in Riyadh
The first Aids case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 1984. The UN says that by the year 2000, the cumulative total was 436.

Last year, another 200 cases were registered.

Today, the Saudi health authorities say there are 6,787 cases, albeit most of them among foreigners.

But still, why the sudden addition of several thousand cases? The exponential leap may reflect better reporting of Aids rather than a dramatic change in the rate of infection.

After all, making the announcement, the head of Saudi Arabia's Epidemic and Parasitic Diseases Authority said 95% of the kingdom's Aids cases were spread by what he called "forbidden sexual relations".

New openness

Pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexuality are all strictly prohibited under the sharia law practised in Saudi Arabia.

The penalties include jail, flogging and stoning.

Hajj pilgrims
Saudi Arabia remains a deeply traditional country
So there is not overwhelming public or official sympathy for Aids sufferers in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year, the Saudi authorities had to investigate claims that a hospital dumped a terminally-ill Aids patient on the streets, barely conscious.

A Saudi newspaper, the Arab News, said the man was picked up by the hospital security staff and left on the pavement outside his employer's offices.

Saudi Arabia is also in the throes of a debate about introducing greater democracy and more openness.

What appears to be the more honest reporting of Aids cases may be one more sign of change stirring within the kingdom.




SEE ALSO:
Saudi clinic 'dumps' Aids patient
03 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
15 Sep 03  |  Country profiles


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