Hotline for HIV concerns

Thursday 31 January 2008

In a small room, in a modest, but well-maintained building in Central Cairo, a phone rings. The caller, a woman, suspects that her husband has been having sex with someone else. She is concerned that she might be at risk of catching hiv. The call that lasts no more than five minutes is not unusual on Egypt's national hiv/Aids hotline.

Supported by unicef, the hotline provides information on hiv to callers in Egypt and other North African countries. The disease is still widely seen as a "foreign" problem, nothing for ordinary Egyptians to worry about. But a number of factors--including lack of basic information about the virus and an increase in the number of young people engaging in premarital sex--have prompted concerns that the situation could quickly worsen.

"Our callers phone us with varied concerns," says Ahmad Bahaa, the hotline manager, whose centre receives some 15 to 20 calls a day. "We receive a lot of calls about modes of transmission, about symptoms, though, even now, a lot of callers hang up because they are afraid that we might be tracking them which, we are not, of course," he adds.

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