U.S. Spent $424,062 on Project Working With Muslim Scholars to Stop HIV Among Prostitutes, Gays, Drug Users in Syria

January 30, 2013 - 5:59 PM

muslim

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave $424,062 in tax dollars to researchers who worked with Muslim scholars to develop strategies to prevent HIV infection among prostitutes, homosexuals, and IV-drug users in Aleppo, Syria. The project was not completed because of the outbreak of the rebellion in Syria.

“I’m very disappointed we weren’t able to carry out this project as far as we had hoped, but sometimes things happen and that’s the way it is,” Professor David Seal of Tulane University, the principal researcher, told CNSNews.com. “It’s unfortunate, but human safety comes first.”

The NIH disbursed the $424,062 for the project in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

According to the description of the project posted online by the NIH, the first aim of the project was: "To identify HIV/STI risk and preventive behaviors, mediators, and moderators that will need to be addressed in a subsequent prevention intervention aimed at groups at high-risk for HIV/STI infection and transmission, including people living with HIV, people seeking STI-related services, female commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users."

Professor Seal told CNSNews.com, "Phase one was the provider interviews, with practitioners, people that provided HIV and sexually transmitted infection service. And then phase two was actually interviewing people who were seeking treatment or services related to sexually transmitted infections and/or who were HIV positive."

Phase three, he said, "would've been the interviews with the sex workers, [men who have sex with men], injection drug users, as well as the pilot team of the quantitative survey."

needle

Hypodermic needle. (AP)

Researchers worked with a “Community Advisory Board” comprised of Syrian health providers and Islamic scholars to assess interview questions, obtain community feedback and recruit individuals to participate in the study, according to the description.

“The support of local Religious Scholars and health care delivery systems will enhance our capacity to successfully implement evidence-based public health HIV/STI risk reduction intervention programs,” according to the project’s description.

However, research on the project had to stop in June 2012 because of the civil unrest and ongoing violence that has been taking place in Syria since early 2011. The research team left Aleppo for safety reasons.

Since March 2011, Syria has been enveloped in an uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The researchers never received the opportunity to interview persons of at-risk groups, but were able to interview Syrian health providers who dealt with HIV patients, as well as those seeking treatment for HIV.

Seal said it was “really exciting” to work on a project that focused on HIV prevention in an area where there was not an outbreak, making it possible to “preemptively” implement prevention strategies.

“For me, it was really exciting to try do something preemptively instead of so much of our work where it’s already too late, the epidemic is already occurring,” he said.

The project’s funding was administered by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), but the majority of funds ($412,201) came from the NIH Office of the Director (OD.) During FY 2010, the NIH gave $230,332 from the OD and $1 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

According to the CIA World Factbook, seventy-four percent of the Syrian  population are Sunni Muslims; 16 belong to other Islamic sects such as Alawite and Druze, and 10 percent are Christians.