By Lilit Harutiunian
Medical authorities have registered a record-high number of HIV cases in Armenia this year and plan to step up preventive measures against the disease, officials said on Monday.
According to Samvel Grigorian, head of the Armenian Health Ministry’s Center for the Prevention of AIDS, 118 persons have been diagnosed with the virus causing AIDS in 2008, raising to 656 the total number of HIV cases officially registered since 1988. Most of those cases have been identified in the past four years, said Grigorian.
The real number of HIV carriers in the country is believed to be much larger. Grigorian’s center estimates it at approximately 2,300. It considers unsafe sex and increased drug use as the main reasons for the spread of the potentially deadly disease.
Speaking at a news conference, officials and experts dealing with the problem said the latest HIV statistics underline the need to significantly boost public awareness of the disease which they believe still leaves much to be desired. “Our emphasis must be on educating our citizens and raising their awareness,” said Ara Babloyan, a former health minister chairing the Armenian parliament’s standing committee on healthcare.
“That is impossible to do without involving the educational system,” said Hovannes Madoyan, chairman of the non-governmental organization Real World/Real People. Madoyan urged the government to introduce mandatory courses on sex education and HIV/AIDS avoidance in Armenian schools.
According to Deputy Health Minister Tatul Hakobian, the Health Ministry has already come up with a relevant initiative and expects a positive response from Education Ministry. “The subject will definitely be included [in the school curricula,]” he said. “The Education Ministry has accepted the idea.”