Not only are world maps incredibly useful visual tools for depicting information but they are also often used by global health organizations for the purpose of public health dissemination and knowledge translation.

For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides a world map divided into six regions. Each region illustrates the prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15-49 in the year 2016. A quick glance at the map below makes it obvious that the lowest prevalence of HIV happens to be in the Muslim world, which includes North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and our very own Pakistan.

Map courtesy of World Health Organization 2017

With respect to lifestyle and sexuality, Islamic doctrine necessitates male circumcision but prohibits pre-marital sex, homosexuality and the use of intoxicants/narcotics – the latter of which are major risk factors associated with contracting HIV. For these reasons, it is no surprise that the Muslim world often associates HIV seropositivity with immorality and infidelity.

However, it would be naïve to operate under the assumption that all Muslims strictly adhere to every Islamic teaching. The fact of the matter is that not every Muslim is teetotal, heterosexual, abstains from pre-marital sex, remains faithful to his/her sexual partner and is free from the deadly HIV epidemic.

HIV positive Muslims exist and they are arguably one of the greatest victims of the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. This is because they come from societies where being HIV positive is considered a punishment for engaging in immoral acts.

“AIDS is a warning from God”

Many leaders of the Muslim world provoke feelings of guilt, humiliation, and inferiority in fellow Muslims who are HIV positive or are living with AIDS. Adversely, such individuals are pushed further into the margins of society and receive little sympathy from their community let alone any counseling or treatment.

A Muslim-Indonesian student at a rally promoting HIV/AIDS awareness. Photo: Achmad Ibrahim/ AP/Press Association Images

In Pakistan, intravenous drug users and sex workers make up the majority of HIV positive individuals amongst the overall population. Amongst drug users, the prevalence has skyrocketed from 10.8% in 2005 to 37.8% in 2011. However, the epidemiological data on these groups is quite unreliable. This is particularly due to the social stigma associated with disclosing such information and inadequate surveillance of inaccessible areas.

When cases of HIV infections are left unreported, the increase and spread of the disease is also left undocumented. The greatest drawback of this manifests itself in silent contagion; the identifiable, treatable, and preventable disease silently spreads to more and more people forcing them deeper into the margins of their society.


 “Stigma is a chief reason that the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

Due to stigma, there is an inherent predisposition to doubt the validity of the prevalence reports from Muslim countries. This includes Pakistan. The United Nations Secretary, General Ban Ki-Moon, addressed the issue when he said: “It [stigma] helps make AIDS the silent killer because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

So whether or not any religion could prevent the infection is not of paramount importance. What is important is that ending the stigma will encourage people to get tested and seek treatment. This will empower those living with HIV/AIDS. It will also encourage those who do not to become more open-minded and accepting of those who do. Most importantly, ending the stigma will help in our global fight against HIV/AIDS.




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