Morocco is one of the North African countries that has known AIDS since the middle of the 80's. The first case of AIDS was discovered in 1986 in a man infected by blood a transfusion during surgery in France.
Statistics up to 31.10.2004 reveal that the total number of cases in Morocco reached 1,557 of which 62% were men, and 38% were women.
According to the Ministry of Health, 13,00 – 16,000 people live with AIDS in Morocco.
The fast spread of the epidemic in the country has been accompanied by the rise of AIDS control associations such as the “Association de Lutte Contre le Sida” (ALCS), which was the first association set up in 1988 in the Maghreb and the Middle East to combat AIDS; and OPALS (Organization Pan-Africaine de lutte contre le SIDA: OPALS – Morocco), which was set up in 1994 by a group of doctors, professionals in the health sector and social science instructors to combat the rise of AIDS.
Another association that marked a difference in the field of AIDS prevention is AMJCS (Association Marocaine des Jeunes Contre le Sida). It was created in 1993 by a group of young Moroccans to fight against the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Morocco.
Today, the government has HIV/AIDS high on its agenda and has launched a National Aids control programme.
The STI/AIDS department in the Ministry of Health was created in February 1988. It is currently called the DELM (Direction de l'Epidémiologie et de Lutte contre les Maladies). Some of its major activities are to document AIDS cases and create a surveillance system; initiate HIV testing in blood transfusion centres; prepare immunology laboratories (CHU Casablanca, Military hospital); prepare a guide for physicians on STI/HIV identification and treatment; and produce brochures and educational programs to sensitize the whole public.
The prevention programmes of the Ministry of Health were successfully carried out thanks to the help and support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Despite the effort made by the Ministry of Health and non governmental associations to raise awareness about the danger of AIDS, HIV/AIDS is still an issue surrounded with stigma and taboo. People do not talk openly about friends or family members who might have died from AIDS. AIDS is perceived by many as a disease of "the others", a disease which comes from outside. The message "Fidelity or condoms" has been widely used. However, it has hindered the generalisation of the use of condoms, because asking for a condom consequently implies distrust of the partner. However, this year, and for the first time, the Ministry of Health broadcast an advertising spot urging the use of condoms on as a protection.
To achieve their objectives, the associations fighting AIDS have implemented many strategies to inform and educate people about AIDS. These include, identifying and utilizing communication networks, training field workers, locating and mobilizing opinion leaders, activating link persons, establishing rotating peer group discussions, and providing information and supplies at meetings.
According to many organizations working in the field of AIDS prevention, condoms are the only efficient solution for vulnerable groups who are at risk to protect themselves from sexually transmitted illnesses. However, most Moroccans or Muslims perceive the distribution of condoms differently from westerners.
For most Moroccan and Muslim religious leaders, the distribution of condoms encourages sexual misconduct. The gist of religious teachings in this respect is that religion encourages and advocates marriage and prohibits all other alternatives for sexual enjoyment. Religion also prescribes the preservation of the human rational faculties and prohibits the use of all kinds of substances, such as drugs and narcotics that may impair them, regardless of the manner in which these substances are taken or administered. Religion also urges cleanliness to protect human beings from risks of infection by destructive diseases, the most dangerous of which, in this day and age, are sexually transmitted diseases, and AIDS in particular.
At the time of the prophet, Muslims, both men and women, were never too shy to ask him about everything, including such private affairs as sexual life, so as to know the teachings and rulings of their religion. They asked the prophet directly, or through his wives, is a proof that sexual matters were not taboo but were fully acknowledged and respected. "Shyness is part of the faith" as the prophet taught, but he also taught "There is no shyness in matters of religion," even involving the intimate aspects of sexual life.
It is recognized that the level of education about sexuality and health in Morocco and other Arab and Muslim countries is much lower than in many other parts of the world. Conversations on sexual relations are always shrouded in embarrassment, which prevents frank discussion and leads to ambiguity.
HIV/AIDS is a critical problem among young men and women. Young people today are marrying later than the older generations but are starting sex very early. Despite the risks, few young men use condoms the first time they have sex. Young unmarried people often do not consider the long-term consequences of current actions, and they take more risks, often thinking "it can't happen to me.” These young people need guidance, encouragement, and access to condoms.
Sex is an important area of marital life, and when people are in trouble they have only the doctor to resort to, and unless the doctor has had some basic teaching of sex, he or she will be quite helpless to help out. Sexual education is essential within the appropriate considerations of age and educational standards, it must be complementary to health education and religious instruction. A balanced blend of these interrelated disciplines must be devised, with the ultimate aim of achieving a physical and spiritual balance compatible with the prevailing cultures and traditions of the country.
It is not shameful to talk about AIDS and sexual health, and every AIDS infected person has the right to adequate treatment. Patients must be made aware of how to prevent both the deterioration of their health and the infection of others. Religions do not allow the exposure of patients to discrimination, disgrace or neglect, for whatever reason and no matter how their infection has occurred.