BY DR.ABDUL RAZAK SHAIKH,
World AIDS Day takes place on the 1st December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK around 5,000 people are diagnosed with HIV, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.
World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
HIV is also recognized as a health concern in Pakistan with the number of cases growing. Moderately high drug use and lack of acceptance that non-marital sex is common in the society have allowed the HIV epidemic to take hold in Pakistan, mainly among injection drug users (IDU), male, female and transvestite sex workers (MSW, FSW, and TSW) as well as the repatriated migrant workers. HIV infection can lead to AIDS that may become a major health issue.
In Pakistan National, AIDS Control Programme was established in 1986-87 with a focus on diagnosis of cases that came to hospitals but progressively began to shift towards a community focus. Since that The Government of Pakistan (GoP) has maintained a sustained response to the HIV epidemic through a close collaboration between the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), Provincial and AJK AIDS Control Programs, UN agencies, bilateral and multilateral donors, and a consortium of NGOs and civil society Organizations (CSOs), including People living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) representative organizations, operating at national and provincial level.
Presently 24,147 cases are reported, 14088 are getting Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and 4,130 People who inject the drug (PWID) and getting ARV treatment. The UN and government estimated the number of HIV/AIDS cases around 97,000 ranging from the lowest estimate of 46,000 to the highest estimate of 210,000.
Pakistan is the second largest country in South Asia that stands only a few steps behind India and Nepal in terms of HIV epidemic. Despite many efforts, the HIV infection rate has increased significantly over the past few years and in fact, the country has moved from a low prevalence to the concentrated epidemic with HIV prevalence of more than 5% among injecting drug users (IDUs) in at least eight major cities.
Other high-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men (MSM), hijra sex workers (HSWs) and female sex workers (FSWs), also look set to reach this threshold level. Many bridging populations, totaling almost five million persons, are in direct sexual contact with these groups and are exposed to HIV infection through unprotected sexual activity. The heterogeneity and interlinking of high risk injecting and sexual behavior, combined with low levels of HIV knowledge and prevention, and high levels of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), indicates that HIV could spread rapidly to marriage partners or sex clients and result in a generalized epidemic.
In Sindh there were 11 centers working for HIV/AIDS, two at Karachi and Larkana, having a capability to treat the patients and Agha Khan and Indus Hospital is working in private Sector free of caste. Other centers are at Lyari General Hospital Karachi, JPMC Karachi, Abbassi Shaheed Hospital Karachi, LMC Hospital Hyderabad, PMC Hospital Benazirabad, Civil hospital Sukkur, Civil Hospital Mirpur Khas has started to work. All medicine of ARV is free of caste. There are different blood transfusion laboratories and not doing HIV test properly that is also a reason for spreading. The common sign of AIDS is fever, cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, pneumonia and red spots all over the body.
We envision a Pakistan where every person living with HIV has access to quality care and is treated with dignity. Effective prevention, care, and support for HIV/AIDS are possible in an environment where human rights are respected and where those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS live a life without stigma and discrimination.
World AIDS Day is an opportunity to show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV worldwide. Most people do this by wearing an HIV awareness red ribbon on the day. World AIDS Day is a great opportunity to raise money for National AIDS Trust (NAT), which will help to champion the rights of people living with HIV.
World AIDS Day may be once a year, but you can still support people living with HIV all year round. Sign up to NAT’s mailing list to stay up-to-date with new developments in HIV, and learn how you can get involved as an activist or as a volunteer.
BY DR.ABDUL RAZAK SHAIKH,