Christian Science Monitor (10.17.03) - Tuesday, October 21,
During its 23-year civil war, HIV/AIDS largely passed over
Afghanistan. Now that the country is experiencing one of the
largest influxes of people in its history, the disease is
making inroads through prostitution and illicit drug use.
Eight people tested positive for HIV last year; this year 15
have been diagnosed.
Dr. Hedayatullah Stanekzai, a senior planning official at the
Ministry of Public Health, regards AIDS in Afghanistan as a
serious problem. But with one of the highest maternal and
infant mortality rates in the world, unsafe drinking water,
poor hygiene and chronic malnutrition among 60 percent of the
population, health officials have other pressing priorities to
Health officials did, however, devote a portion of their $170
million 2003 budget to setting up an HIV/AIDS department and
to placing stricter screening controls on the Central Blood
Bank, where all 15 of the current cases were discovered.
Some UN and Afghan officials believe the best way to stem the
further spread of HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan is through
education. A recent Health Ministry survey found that 84
percent of Afghans had never heard of HIV/AIDS. But education
about an STD can be difficult in a country where sex itself is
"Islam does not allow you to sleep illegally with another
woman, so how can you encourage a man to use a condom?" asked
Gul Agha, a senior judge and Islamic scholar. "The best way is
to tell people that prostitution is not allowed and to stay
away from it."
"We are going through a miniglobalization here in Afghanistan,
after years of isolation," said Omar Samad, spokesperson for
the Afghan Foreign Ministry. "It is very difficult to control
some of these forces.... What we need is to preach morality,
and to uphold the rule of law."