Morocco's Open Campaign Against a Secret Epidemic Starts with Diagnosis

Published: October 27, 2014

Robert Bourgoing
Original Article:

Objectively, Morocco’s HIV indicators paint a relatively reassuring picture of a country only grazed lightly by an epidemic that has had ruinous consequences elsewhere in Africa.

Prevalence rates have never risen above 0.2% and, for the most part, only a small sub-section of the population is really at risk of infection: members of those globally identified vulnerable groups, including sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs.

But delve a little deeper and the picture is not as rosy – because among those vulnerable groups, there is serious danger in the unknown. Three in four of Morocco’s most at-risk do not know their status, according to Dr Abdelaziz Ouassadan, coordinator of the diagnostics department at the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS). And while Morocco’s human rights record is improving, stigma and discrimination continue – so finding them is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

"It’s really challenging, in the context of a 0.1% prevalence rate, to find 30,000 people," he told Aidspan during a recent visit. "Think about just how many tests you would have to do to find 100% of the infections."

Since 1992, ALCS has been responsible for most of the diagnostic testing in Morocco. But of course it cannot be responsible for testing all 30 million people in Morocco alone and, despite all of the awareness campaigns of the last decade, many of which received Global Fund support, voluntary testing remains rare. A goal of reaching 80% of both men who have sex with men and sex workers seems far off.

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