Health Concerns For BELIEVERS
Contemporary Issues

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) often refeffed to as the plague of the twentieth century, is spreading so fast, especially in the US, Britain, West Germany and France that it is no longer a moral issue. Since there are sizeable Muslim communities residing in these countries, they should be aware of the facts relating to AIDS.

It is no longer sufficient for Muslims, especially those residing in the West, to say that we are immune to AIDS because of our lifestyle. Indeed, our lifestyle has a great deal to do with the spread of AIDS. The Quranic prohibition on homosexuality, adultery and fornication has saved Muslims from such scourges.

There are many Muslims working as doctors, dentists, scientists or in hospitals where they are likely to come in contact with AIDS patients or AIDS-infected blood. Blood transfusion during an operation may be another source of transmission. Similarly, AIDS is no longer confined to a particular group of people, for example, homosexuals, in the West. Because of the promiscuous lifestyle, AIDS is being transmitted by all kinds of people, men and women, very rapidly in society

Today, one finds children, mothers, teachers and people in other groups and professions carrying the disease. Even if Muslims do not contribute to its spread, they can easily acquire it from those around hospitals, schools or while playing, especially children who may be lesions on the skin leading to the mixing of blood.

What is AIDS? It is an infective process in which the body's defense systems become so weak that they can no longer defend the body against infections and other disorders. It has a wide variety of symptoms including fever, pneumonia, skin lesions, neurological symptoms, heart lesions and even symptoms resembling lung or skin cancer. Several types of viruses (HTLV-1, HTLV-2, HTLV-3 and HTLV-4) have been isolated. It is believed that these viruses are prevalent in West Africa in humans as well as monkeys. HTLV-3 is the actual virus that causes human AIDS. Others are usually asymptomatic carriers.

The incidence of HIV virus worldwide is:

United States, I million

South America, I million

Sub Sahara Africa, 6 million

Southeast Asia, 500,000

Australia, 30,000

Soviet Union, 20,000

China, 20,000

Europe, 500,000

The total number of known HIV Infections in the Middle East is only 30,000. HIV infection is the carrier state and will manifest in due course, maybe in IO years, and may manifest as the AIDS syndrome in IO years. Again, the US is leading all of the civilized world in the number of actual AIDS cases. The number of AIDS cases has increased to 220,000 as of 1994, and it is increasing at a geometric proportion.

The number of AIDS cases, for example in Japan, another developed country, is only 405. Out of the 10 million infected worldwide with HIV, 900,000 are children and newborns who got AIDS not with the practice of homosexuality but through their mothers who were either drug abusers or partners of AIDS cases. More than 55 percent of all the AIDS cases reported so far in the United States have already died. It is projected that by 1996, the number of AIDS cases in this country will double.

Of all the 21 Muslim countries in the Middle East, the total population is close to half a billion and only 366 AIDS cases have been reported so the lifestyle of not practicing homosexuality does help. Of all these 366 cases, again many are imported cases-imported from AIDS infested Western cities. It is also claimed that the actual number of AIDS cases in Muslim countries is much higher than they are reported.

AIDS is a terrible disease to have. It destroys the immune system totally so that the body has no defense against any infection. I have seen a few AIDS patients who have been in terrible physical shape, either from the disease or from the treatment. The life expectancy after acquiring the disease is only five years. The cost of one treatment of AZT alone is $8,000 per year. The cost for education and prevention of AIDS in this nation is $ 1 0,000 per person, and although many people are dying of cancer and heart disease, for example, in 1990, 800,000 Americans died of myocardial infarction, only $3.50 per person is being spent on cancer prevention. The point I am making is that much of our money which should go for social reform and preventive health is going on AIDS, which could have been prevented if we did not have this epidemic.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said, "When sin afflicts people and they publicize it, then God subj ects them to ailments unknown in their fore- fathers." (Reported in Tirmizi)

AIDS was not known to us 20 years ago. It was when homosexuality became an accepted way of life in this society and was publicized as "gay rights'" that it became recognizable and manifested in disease. Until 1970, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a disease. The solution that is being proposed to Americans is "protection." The only way one can prevent AIDS is to have "protection" when one engages in sex. The crime for Magic Johnson was not that he engaged in illegal sex or had sex parties, but that he did not have "protection" available when he did so. Prophylactics, then, are being advertised on bill-boards, on television, being dispensed in the schools and in clinics, and they will soon be available next to candy and cigarette machines

But is it going to work? No, it will not work because of several reasons.

"Prophylactics" are expensive. A good type costs about a dollar apiece, and a drug addict or a teenager will spend that dollar or the number of dollars he may use in one night on drugs or candy rather than on the protection. So it has to be freely available to as many people and as much as they want in order to make any dent.

Another point is the FDA study which says that one out of five condoms have failed the test to hold back the AIDS virus. That is because the AIDS virus is one-fifth the size of the sperm and, therefore, it is permeable. Now the (renters for Disease Control is coming up with new guidelines and are telling people to ask their sex partners some questions before engaging in sex. These are:

1. Have you ever been tested for HIV or other STD.

2. How many sex partners do you have.

3. Have you ever been with a prostitute.

4. For a woman to ask the man, "Have you ever had sex with a man?"

5. Have you ever had sex partners injected with drugs.

6. Have you ever had transfusions with blood products.

Now if one asks so many questions to his or her sex partner, it is doubtful that he or she will agree to have sex. They are also coming up with some new advice.

1. Don't do it (that is what we have been telling them); that is to say, abstinence may be unrealistic, but that is on the only sure thing.

2. Wear protection.

3. Use spermicide.

4. Be monogamous-that means "don't fool around." (That is what we have been told,

5. Avoid anal sex. (Islam has also prohibited that.)

But is all this education changing the lifestyles? Not really. In one survey, the question was asked that as a result of Magic Johnson's announcement that he had AIDS, did they practice safe sex now? Twenty-five percent said no. Did they talk to their children about AIDS? Twenty-seven percent said no. Did they limit the number of sex partners they have? Thirty-three percent said no. Have they had their blood tested to find out if they had the infection? Fifty-seven percent said no. Did they contribute to AIDS charities? Fifty-nine percent said yes. So giving charity to AIDS may prevent our getting it!!

There are many myths associated with the transmission of the disease. The AIDS virus infection is not acquired (or transmitted) via mosquitoes, food, water, toilet seats, swimming pools, sweat, tears, clothing or a handshake. Sexual transmission is the main mode as well as the victim's saliva. Next is the intravenous (IV) drug abuse and using a common needle. Some 17 percent of all AIDS cases are among drug users. The third method is direct transmission, i.e., infants bom of AIDS-infected mothers (60 percent). Many cases of transmission through blood transfusions have not be reported. All those who received blood in the U.S. after 1975 are required to have AIDS testing. However, nowadays all blood is screened thoroughly so that it is less likely to acquire AIDS from transfusion.

Those who are being tested for AIDS virus in the U.S. include new immigrants, blood donors, applicants for military service, some federal employees and homosexuals reporting to the emergency room with a febrile illness. One cannot refuse AIDS testing when asked by a physician, nor has one got to be informed before testing. Fifty percent of those who are found to have positive blood tests, of not already having AIDS, will develop it within five years.

Many antiviral drugs like Ribavirin, AZT, AL721, Aerosol Pentamidine, T-Peptide, etc., are being tried with some success. Anti- AIDS vaccine is also being researched and developed. There are hopes that a cure for cancer will be the by-product of AIDS research. But Muslims must not allow themselves into a false sense of complacency or hope. It is absolutely necessary to take precautions with blood or saliva contact. After all, precaution is always better than cure, especially when there is no cure for AIDS yet.

Other sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) are also increasing in the USA at an alarming rate. The annual incidence of syphilis is 130,000, gonorrhea 1.4 million, chlamydia 4 million, pelvic inflammatory disease 420,000 and genital herpes 500,000. Muslim societies in love with Western sexual freedom are also catching up. Muslims should realize that Islam's emphasis to them for leading a clean life, avoiding premarital and extramarital sex, anal sex and other perversions is in their best interest. In addition, they must take precautions when coming in contact with body fluids and insist on screening before accepting any blood transfusion while taking necessary precautions for themselves, Muslim physicians and paramedical personnel should continue to care for AIDS patients as they will care for other patients.