World AIDS Day: HIV taking shape of epidemic in Pakistan

World AIDS Day is being observed across the world on Saturday (Dec 1).

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In his message on the occasion, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there is still time to scale-up testing for HIV to enable more people to access treatment to increase resources needed to prevent new infections and to end the stigma.

The UN Secretary General said at this critical juncture, we need to take the right turn now.

Well over 150,000 people are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive in Pakistan and 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 fueling 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.

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