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December 4, 2020

Forgotten virus

Editorial

 
December 4, 2020

While the focus for the last one year has been on the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation it has caused on a global level, it is easy to forget that the HIV/AIDS problem is a very real one too for Pakistan. Numbers are not easy to estimate. It is, however, stated by UNAIDS that the figure ranges from somewhere between 46,000 people who live with HIV/AIDS and over 200,000 people living with the disease. The stigma that still surrounds the virus is still present in our country. For this reason, many people do not come forward to report AIDS or to seek treatment for it. This worsens the situation.

The worst affected population is those who use injectable drugs. The finding in 2019 in Larkana of infection among over 900 people, many of them children, pointed to the danger of misusing injections. The use of injections, drips and other procedures which involve the penetration of the skin with potentially unsafe medical equipment is a huge factor in the spread of AIDS. It is this factor that should be dealt with most urgently by the government. Other high risk groups include transgender persons, men in same-sex relationships, female sexual workers and others also need to be made aware of the disease so that they can be treated. While private organizations have attempted to create some networks of people living with HIV, this is not sufficient. The government too needs to step in and create awareness about transmission modes and how to prevent the disease. It also needs to make drugs available to people and let them know that the disease can now be treated effectively by antiviral drugs used around the world.

Currently, Pakistan reports 25,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS every year. This is the highest number in the Asia Pacific after the Philippines. Pakistan's situation is then not a happy one, as was highlighted by advocacy groups on World AIDS Day which falls on December 1. HIV/AIDS needs to be dealt with as a major health problem. Failing to take heed of it will only lead to more people becoming infected. All this requires a more careful analysis and much greater effort to prevent the spread of the disease.