Thursday February 09, 2023

Preventing HIV

December 01, 2022

On December 1, Pakistan comes together to commemorate World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to increasing awareness about AIDS, and a day for remembering all those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

While it is estimated that more than 240,000 people are living with HIV in Pakistan, only 16 per cent of people who are HIV-positive are aware of their status and most of the population is completely unaware of HIV or AIDS.

Knowledge is power; if people know their HIV status, they can make informed decisions about their future and help safeguard future generations. If we are to successfully control HIV in this country, it requires a multisectoral and holistic approach that ensures universal access to HIV-related information, prevention and confidential HIV testing services.

As we commemorate another World AIDS Day in Pakistan, we must reaffirm our commitment to front-loading the much-needed investment in HIV prevention, testing and treatment programming lest we lose control of the epidemic. We must seize this window of opportunity.

Today, new HIV infections in Pakistan are largely concentrated among key populations. However, the epidemic is moving quickly into the broader general population due to poor knowledge, negative attitudes, high levels of stigma and discrimination in society including among medical professionals.

An effective HIV response requires the right strategies, decisive action and focused interventions. Our ministry is fully committed and leading the response with key partners in government, civil society and the United Nations to make the necessary, critical investments to address gaps in awareness, prevention education, HIV testing and treatment services and programming across the country.

We are committed to achieving the global targets by 2025, whereby 95 per cent of all people living with HIV know their HIV status, 95 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95 per cent of people receiving antiretroviral therapy l are virally suppressed.

Over the years, Pakistan has followed the HIV epidemic pattern that is typical of other countries in Asia. That is, it has shifted from low to high HIV prevalence among certain groups. Between 2010 and 2020, Pakistan has seen an increase of 84 per cent in new HIV infections. Only 20.7 per cent of the estimated number of people living with HIV are aware of their status and 80.3 per cent do not know their HIV status risking transmission to their partner(s) and children.

Reducing the number of new HIV infections and ending AIDS as a public health threat is possible in Pakistan. But to do so, we must join hands and urgently adopt a holistic and multi-sectoral HIV response. If we do not translate our commitments into concrete actions now, the country must be prepared to pay the cost of inaction later.

Abdul Qadir Patel is the federal minister of health. Yuki Takemoto is UNAIDS country director for Pakistan & Afghanistan.