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J Adolesc Health. 2007 Jun;40(6):572.e1-8. Epub 2007 Mar 26.

Break the silence: HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes, and educational needs among Arab university students in United Arab Emirates.

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1
Department of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health, Pomeranian Medical University, Szczecin, Poland.

Abstract

PURPOSE:

In light of increasing spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Middle East, we assessed knowledge, attitudes, and educational needs of young people in United Arab Emirates (UAE), a modern and moderately conservative Islamic country.

METHODS:

A cross-sectional survey among randomly selected first-year, gender-segregated Arab students at the national university in Al Ain in 2005 was conducted using an adaptation of an anonymous self-administered World Health Organization questionnaire. Knowledge and attitudes were scored.

RESULTS:

Response was 89%; 119 males and 148 females. Knowledge scores about HIV/AIDS were low for 75%, moderate for 24%, high for <1%. Although 90% knew main routes of infection, there were misconceptions about transmission, and only 31% knew there is no vaccine and 34% no cure. Religion was stated as a reason to avoid extramarital relationships by 91% and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by 38%; 94% favored premarital testing. Attitudes toward people living with HIV (PLH) were neither friendly nor tolerant, including 97% who felt all people entering UAE should be tested, 53% that PLH should be forced to live apart, and only 27% who felt children with HIV should be allowed to attend school. Ninety-six percent stated that young people should be taught how to protect themselves and 57% that teaching at school was insufficient. Main information sources were books/media; preferred sources were media, schools, and health professionals. Males scored higher on knowledge and were more susceptible to fear of STDs, society, and family; females showed greater compassion and interest in premarital testing and education to protect themselves.

CONCLUSIONS:

Alarming gaps in knowledge about transmission and curability put young Arabs at risk of contracting HIV. Fear and intolerant attitudes toward PLH were prevalent. HIV/AIDS education designed to raise knowledge and change attitudes, and respectful of community values, is urgently needed from media, schools, and health professionals.

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