The lack of gay and bisexual men in Egypt requesting tests for HIV has been blamed on police raids based on medical records kept at hospitals.
According to figures released covering the period 2003-2004, less than 0.1 percent of Egyptian adults carry the HIV virus, but experts warn that Egyptian society has the conditions necessary to cause a rapidly increasing infection rate.
With a population of 73 million, the country is the most populous Arab state. Over half (56 per cent) are under twenty five and chronic youth unemployment has been blamed for a huge growth in pre-marital and gay sex.
In 2001, a number of men were arrested by police following a raid of a Cairo gay meeting point and information recorded from gay websites have resulted in numerous raids in recent years.
“It won’t change a thing,” a man who did not wish to be named told the Reuters news agency. “The Egyptian government wants to pretend gays don’t exist, not help them. People like to believe that this is an Islamic society, therefore, there are no gays.”
The man told reporters that he self identified as bisexual but that he would eventually marry a woman. He claimed to have been undergone regular HIV tests but said that most of his gay and bisexual friends did not and that they often had unprotected bareback sex.
“Some think that if you only see Egyptians you won’t get AIDS, or that if the whites of their eyes are very clear, they don’t have HIV,” he said, adding that many prostitutes consider westerners to be HIV-free and therefore do not require the use of a condom.
Maha Aon of the United Nations said that Egypt had made progress in combating the spread of HIV. For the past two years, testing has been freely available and is legally anonymous. Since last year, access to HIV treatment has also been free.
“We don’t have a visible or very prevalent epidemic. It’s very much a silent epidemic, ” said Ms Aon. “Of course if you sit back and think logically, the time to act is now, before it becomes much more difficult to control and much more expensive,.”