|© UNICEF Egypt/2006|
|Lebanese singer Mai Hariri performed a song written for the launch of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign in Cairo, Egypt.|
By Simon Ingram
CAIRO, Egypt, 11 December 2006 – Egypt has become the latest country to join UNICEF’s global UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign. The occasion was marked by a gala evening involving some of the Arab world’s leading celebrities, who gathered with street children and community leaders to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The event last week at the Cairo Opera House highlighted the threat of AIDS in a country where prevalence of the disease is low. However, across the region the rate of new infections is increasing faster than anywhere else except the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
In a video address to some 300 guests at the campaign launch, the Minister of Health and Population, Dr. Hatem el Gabali, underlined the need for action. He highlighted the connection between AIDS and hepatitis C, a disease that is widespread in Egypt and has similar modes of transmission to HIV.
Protecting vulnerable groups
“We cannot afford to be complacent because HIV prevalence here is low,” said Mr. el Gabali. “Nor should we be misled by the fact that the incidence of hepatitis C is declining among young people. We need to work hard if we are to ensure that these trends continue.”
A play written and performed by street children attending UNICEF-supported reception centres depicted the particular hazards faced by youngsters in Egypt’s big cities. Preventing new HIV and hepatitis C infections among young girls and vulnerable groups such as street children will be a particular focus of Egypt’s five-year campaign.
|© UNICEF Egypt/2006|
|Egyptian actor and UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador Mahmoud Kabil was among the celebrity speakers at the AIDS campaign event.|
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah reminded the gathering of the global dimensions of the AIDS pandemic.
“Every minute of every day, somewhere in the world, a child dies because of AIDS,” said Ms. Salah. “And every day, there are nearly 2,000 new infections among children under 15.”
Ms. Salah added that the campaign in Egypt would aim to reduce the number of young people living with HIV/AIDS, prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, extend provision of paediatric AIDS treatment and provide more services to children living with the disease.
Efforts by partners
Several of Egypt’s best-known screen stars brought glamour to the occasion. They included actor and UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador Mahmoud Kabil and Lebanese singer Mai Hariri, who performed a specially written song. Their contributions ensured wide public and media interest for an issue that is often taboo.
“It will take the efforts of everyone to halt the further spread of AIDS in Egypt,” said actor Yehia Fakharany. “All of us are responsible and have a role to play – the government, civil society, religious leaders, the media and artists – each of us as individuals.”
The Coca-Cola Company – a campaign partner – is one of a number of large firms now addressing AIDS issues among its employees. The support of such major businesses is helping to build a broad partnership to tackle HIV/AIDS.