Jeddah, Aug 30: Couples wanting to get married will have to undergo, starting next year, HIV and hepatitis tests as part of the Kingdom’s compulsory premarital tests, Dr. Khaled Al-Zahrani, deputy minister for preventive medicine, said yesterday.
“Premarital tests are done to protect citizens and they currently include genetic blood disorders and diseases,” Al-Zahrani told Arab News. He said the royal decree that obligated premarital tests in 2003 mentioned that other contagious diseases would be included in the future.
Al-Zahrani added that if either of a couple tests HIV positive and they still want to marry, then the case would be examined in conjunction with the Justice Ministry.
The announcement coincides with the launch of the first clinic for voluntary AIDS tests in the Kingdom. The clinic, which is housed at the King Saud Hospital, was opened by Al-Zahrani on Tuesday.
“The clinic keeps patients’ identities secret by giving them codes instead of using their names. People come for consultations. ... They also have an option to undergo a blood test to check if they are HIV positive or not,” he said.
The clinic is aimed at Saudi citizens. Foreign residents undergo AIDS tests every time they renew their iqamas and those found to be HIV positive are deported.
Al-Zahrani said launching these clinics does not mean there is an increase of AIDS cases in the Kingdom. On the contrary, the number of cases in Saudi Arabia is considered the lowest in the world.
According to figures published in 2006, 1,390 HIV cases were reported in the Kingdom. Two-thirds of these cases involved non-Saudis. “The clinic is part of various recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Kingdom has been among the first countries to apply them,” he said.
If people are found to be HIV positive then they are referred to specialized AIDS treating centers. The Kingdom has eight such centers in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Ahsa, Jizan, Asir, Madinah and Jouf.
People have started heading for the AIDS clinic to undergo tests. The clinic is open Saturday to Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
At the launch, some reporters gave samples of their blood for tests. Results, which were negative, came out in 10 minutes.