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Sunday November 28, 2021

World AIDS Day: HIV taking shape of epidemic among high-risk groups

December 01, 2018

Rawalpindi: Well over 150,000 people are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive ain Pakistan nd the number is increasing by an estimated 20,000 people every year though it is believed that the number may be much higher because due to stigma attached to the disease, a majority of people do not reveal their infection.

Surprisingly, only 25,220 patients are registered with National AIDS control programme that is providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to as many as 15,390 patients, 58 per cent of the total patients registered with it while the remaining 42 per cent are on pre-ART.

According to many health experts, poverty, gender inequality, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation of women and girls are fuelling the epidemic while lack of political will, bureaucratic challenges, and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), institutional deficiencies and socioeconomic complexities not only prevent early diagnosis and treatment but also leave marginalised and poor sufferers – especially drug users – with fewer healthcare options.

Pakistan is facing concentrated epidemic among injecting drug users (IDUs) (40 per cent), female sex workers and transgender sex workers. An estimated 40 per cent of Pakistan’s prison population uses drugs and have a high prevalence of HIV. There are serious risk factors such as having unprotected anal or vaginal sex, low literacy rate especially among women, significant power imbalances in men and women, negative peer pressure, economic frustration in Pakistan, widespread poverty, lack of any system to check the HIV positive reported persons, indiscriminate transfusion of unscreened blood, use of unsterilized medical instruments, re-use of used syringes and needles, sharing contaminated needles and syringes, quackery, community dental clinics, commercial sex, sex of men with men, labour migration, rising number of drug addicts, low condom use rates etc. that put Pakistan in danger of facing a rapid spread of HIV if immediate and vigorous action is not taken.

Professor of Community Medicine Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry expressed this while talking to ‘The News’ in connection with World AIDS Day being observed around the globe on Saturday with the theme ‘Know your status’.

He said individuals can reduce the risk of HIV infection by limiting exposure to risk factors. In Pakistan many women get the disease from their husbands who had stayed abroad before coming to get married. Then these women after becoming pregnant transfer the HIV infection to their babies, which is criminal. There is a need of legislation to ensure that men contracting marriage are HIV free, he said.

World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and provides an opportunity to express solidarity and support for those living with the disease and to ensure that pandemic is kept on the national and international agenda.

AIDS is caused by HIV that infects cells of the human immune system, destroying or impairing their function. AIDS is also called “Slim Disease”. The symptoms of HIV vary depending on the stage of infection. Though people living with HIV tend to be most infectious in the first few months, many (40%) are unaware of their status until later stages. In the early stages of infection, the person has no symptoms. However, as the infection progresses, the immune system becomes weaker, and the individual can develop other signs and symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, diarrhoea and the more susceptible to so-called opportunistic infections like TB, neurological disorders and unusual cancers.

Testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is strongly advised for all people exposed to any of the risk factors so that they can learn of their own infection status and access necessary prevention and treatment services without delay, said Dr. Ashraf.

The most advanced and end-stage of HIV infection, AIDS can take 10-15 years to develop and usually a person dies in six months after developing AIDS. There is no vaccine, specific treatment of AIDS; however, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow down the progress and people with HIV can enjoy healthy and productive lives, he said.

He said media can play a vital role in creating awareness among public about prevention and the healthcare authorities should take steps to inform people that the disease is not something to be ashamed of.