World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1 each year, is a timely reminder that according to experts the rate of AIDS has risen by 84 percent over the last 10 years in the country. There are now at...
World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1 each year, is a timely reminder that according to experts the rate of AIDS has risen by 84 percent over the last 10 years in the country. There are now at least 200,000 people in the country who suffer HIV/AIDS, with 86,000 in Sindh alone. According to the limited surveys that have been carried out, a large proportion of those in Sindh are injectable drug users. And we have already seen the bizarre and heartbreaking case of the Ratodero HIV outbreak. Pakistan has a critical problem in the fact that only 47,000 are registered with government agencies as HIV/AIDS patients and are receiving the free treatment offered by the government. Many of the remaining 75 percent may not even know they suffer AIDS and are therefore probably transmitting it to spouses, sexual partners, and to anyone to whom they may donate blood or during other medical procedures. The reuse of syringes in many Pakistani clinics is also a major risk factor.
The issue needs to be dealt with urgently and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS has to be challenged. The virus can be treated with powerful antiviral drugs ensuring that the patient enjoys a normal lifespan. This knowledge is still not widely disseminated in Pakistan, and HIV/AIDS is still widely characterised as a disease which carries with it connotations of immorality. It is a tragedy that so many people live with the disease, unaware of the consequences of remaining untreated. Not registering themselves as AIDS patients means they are not eligible for the free care offered by the government.
A mass campaign needs to be run, making people aware about the routes of transmission for HIV/AIDS. Those who use injectable drugs also need to be provided with free, sterilised syringes as well as other help both to ensure they do not become infected with the disease and to wean them off drug abuse. We can no longer afford to be silent or adopt an attitude of shame towards this disease. South Asia is one of the places in the world where HIV infections are spreading rapidly. There needs to be much more discussion about the problem and people need to be informed about how they can receive the treatment they need to avoid lingering infections due to immunocompromisation caused by the disease. The lack of knowledge virtually condemns thousands of people to misery and suffering. For the long term, we need to seriously consider the dire state of public health in the country. Health has never been a priority for the government, as we can see by the scant resources devoted to it in the budget. When even basic care isn’t available, we shouldn’t be surprised that routine precautions are not adhered to or important campaigns not prioritised.