Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective

BMC Infect Dis. 2004 Aug 6;4:25. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-4-25.


Background: data on HIV epidemiology and preventive measures in Islamic countries is limited. This study describes the results of 18-year of HIV surveillance in Saudi Arabia (SA) and the preventive measures implemented from an Islamic perspective.

Methods: surveillance for HIV has been underway in SA since 1984. Indications for HIV testing include clinical suspicion, screening of contacts of HIV-infected patients, and routine screening of blood and organ donors, prisoners, intravenous drug users, patients with other sexually transmitted infections, and expatriates pre-employment. This is a case series descriptive study of all confirmed HIV infections diagnosed in SA from 1984 through 2001.

Results: a total of 6046 HIV infections were diagnosed, of which 1285 (21.3%) cases were Saudi citizens. Over the 18-year surveillance period the number of HIV infections diagnosed annually among Saudi citizens gradually increased and, over the period 1997-2001, it reached to 84 to 142 cases per year. The number of cases per 100,000 population varied widely between regions with a maximum of 74 cases and a minimum of 2 cases. The infection was most common in the age group 20-40 years (74.6%) and predominantly affected men (71.6%). The modes of transmission among Saudi citizens and expatriates, respectively, were as follows: heterosexual contact, 487 (37.9%) and 1352 (28.4%) cases; blood transfusion, 322 (25.0%) and 186 (3.9%) cases; perinatal transmission, 83 (6.5%) and 19 (0.4%) cases; homosexual contact, 32 (2.5%) and 38 (0.8%) cases; intravenous drug use, 17 (1.3%) and 33 (0.7%) cases; bisexual contact, 10 (0.8%) and 14 (0.3%) cases; unknown, 334 (26.0%) and 3119 (65.5%) cases. The number of HIV infections transmitted by blood or blood products transfusion declined to zero by year 2001 and all such infections occurred due to transfusions administered before 1986. At HIV diagnosis, 4502/6046 (74.5%) patients had no symptoms, 787 (13.0%) patients had non-AIDS defining manifestations, and 757 (12.5%) patients had AIDS. A total of 514/1285 (40%) Saudi patients died by year 2001.

Conclusions: the number of HIV cases in SA is limited with heterosexual contact being the main mode of transmission. From an Islamic perspective, preventive strategies include prevention of non-marital sex and intravenous drug use with encouragement of "safe sex" through legal marriage.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Blood Transfusion / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / etiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Prevalence
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Sex Distribution
  • Transfusion Reaction