Magharebia (Washington DC)

North Africa: Aids Awareness Campaigns Target Maghreb Youth

Nouakchott — Ignorance increases the risk of HIV infection, especially for young people.

A national AIDS awareness campaign now under way in Morocco is focusing on teenagers.

The fourth edition of "Sidaction Maroc", which runs through December 31st, aims to encourage young people to get tested so that the epidemic can be contained.

The campaign also includes a televised appeal for donations.

Given that young people make up more than 30% of Morocco's population, the president of the Moroccan Association for the Prevention of AIDS (ALCS) finds it essential to raise youth awareness about the disease.

"The latest epidemiological data indicate that young people, especially those aged between 15 and 34, are the worst affected," Hakima Himmich told Magharebia before the initiative launch on December 6th.

"They make up more than 51% of HIV carriers," she noted.

This year's campaign is determined to convey the message that young people are more affected by AIDS than anyone else, communications expert Bruno Perrussel explained at a November 20th press conference in Casablanca.

Students Samir and Khalid agree that it is the duty of the state and civil society to inform young Moroccans about the dangers of AIDS.

"But in addition to raising awareness, we also need to create sports and culture centres to guide young people along the right path," Samir said.

In Morocco, the number of people infected with AIDS as at the end of 2011 was 29,000. Of these, 10,000 required anti-viral treatment.

To call attention to the dangers of HIV infection, Morocco launched a 4-year National AIDS Strategic Plan last June.

Moroccan Health Minister Houcine El Ouardi says that the project aims to stem the spread of the disease, the first cases of which were reported in the kingdom in 1986.

"Between then and December 2011, 6,453 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported, including 4,169 people who had reached the stage of full-blown AIDS," the minister said. "There were also 2,284 asymptomatic carriers of HIV," El Ouardi added.

Within the next three years, Morocco aims to cut the number of new HIV infections in half and reduce AIDS-related deaths by 60%.

The ALCS offers help and advocacy for people living with HIV. Its main aims are to prevent HIV/AIDS infection, provide care and enable people to access treatment.

Mauritania marks World AIDS Day

Mauritania on December 1st marked World AIDS Day under the slogan: "Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero AIDS-Related Deaths."

Health Minister Ba Houseynou Hamady and Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Nini supervised Mauritania's commemoration of the international event, including the launch of new centres for voluntary and confidential AIDS testing.

The centres will also work to raise awareness about mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Mauritania in 2011 initiated a 4-year project to fight the disease, including an awareness campaign by religious leaders.

The programme involves ulemas, mosque-based imams and key religious figures, in order to help the general population understand the dangers of HIV/AIDS. Authorities also set up a mechanism to help women and girls.

HIV/AIDS patients make up less than 1% of Mauritania's population. The country is determined to reduce the numbers even further over the next few years.

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