As POZ goes to press, U.S.-led forces and Saddam Hussein’s die-hards are in a death battle for Iraq. Where does that leave the country’s (much under-) estimated 250 HIVers? Iraq ended its HIVer quarantine in 1991, the same year that economic sanctions started leaving most Iraqis with little more than meager UN-brokered food rations, health-care that plunged from near-Western to Third World status and the malnutrition deaths of half a million children. Forced HIV-testing of all incoming border-crossers, Gypsies, arrested prostitutes and health-care workers is no surprise in this repressive regime, but George Ionita, a Mideast HIVexpert at UNICEF in Amman, Jordan, says Iraq has cared for HIVers in its fashion, with extra food rations and a clinic near Baghdad with spotty HIV-med access. They even suffer little stigma—largely because most got HIVfrom bad blood products.
But war makes bad conditions worse, and HIVers may suffer more than most the current lack of food, water, electricity and medicine. They may be exposed to TB in refugee camps. Desperate medics may resort to unclean needles. Women and children are at great risk for rape, which may spread HIV and other STDs (already on the rise in Iraq), and crucial relief groups like UNICEF (www.unicef.org) and Red Cross/Red Crescent (www.ifrc.org) are disrupted in their fundraising. Regardless of who may one day benefit from a new Iraq, right now the adage “War isn’t healthy for children and other living things” applies to Iraq’s HIVers as much or more than to the rest of its long-suffering people.