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April 29, 2019

Facing up to AIDS


April 29, 2019

The finding that at least 13 children in Rata Dero in Sindh’s Larkana district may be HIV positive underscores the need to face up to the problem in the country rather than turning a blind eye to it. The 13 positive cases are being rechecked by the Sindh AIDS Control Programme, whose team has arrived in Larkana. While the tests will be re-run on all the children suspected of having contracted the virus, just the fact that an increased number of persons are testing positive is significant. Larkana is already a district with the heaviest HIV burden. At least 2,400 people in the district are positive for the virus. Doctors leading the battle against AIDS believe that across Sindh 100,000 people may be positive, although only around 10,000 are registered.

The inadequacies of our testing procedures and inability to detect HIV infection could have extremely grave health consequences. We need an accurate measure of the numbers simply to be able to adopt strategies to prevent other victims falling prey to a disease that is still potentially deadly, especially when not treated quickly and adequately. Lack of awareness of course means many persons go without treatment for months or even years. Even more alarming is the assessment by doctors in the Rata Dero area that re-used syringes and other medical equipment may have led to the spread of the infection, notably among young children. Reports suggest such medical malpractice is rampant everywhere in the country, with basic syringe safety not being adopted. In the past, the incidence of HIV in Larkana has been high because of the presence of the disease among injecting drug users.

We also need to test persons across the country far more frequently to ascertain the extent of the problem. The Subcontinent, including India and Pakistan, has been identified by the WHO as an area where AIDS could spread with alarming speed. The high number of drug users in the country, the presence of an active sex trade, and a high number of migrant workers who return periodically are all factors that contribute to the HIV threat in Pakistan. In 1986, only 4,000 cases were recorded in the country. According to the Nationals AIDS Programme, during the first decade of the 2000s, this number had increased to around 100,000 and possibly over 200,000 persons. The increase in cases continues. We need to make people more aware about the routes through which HIV can be contracted so they can safeguard themselves while also ensuring that all medical personnel follow established protocol to prevent spread of HIV and other diseases which present a threat to life and welfare.

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