The HIV infection rate in Pakistan has risen significantly in the past few years. The main factor contributing to the rise is sharing of needles used for drug injections. There are more than 5% injecting drug users in at least eight major cities, said National AIDS Program Manager Dr Sajid Ahmed at a seminar here on Thursday.
However, the situation is not very bad as current estimates indicate that HIV prevalence among adult population is still below 1%, or about 97,400 cases.
Considering the rise in the number of HIV positive patients in the country, participants at the seminar stressed on the need to create awareness among the public about the disease. They said to control its spread there is a need to focus on the root causes of its spread which includes underground sex workers, reuse of used syringes (especially by the drug users) and unchecked HIV positive patients coming from middle-east who marry local women.
Commenting on Pakistan’s slow progress on spreading awareness about the disease, Ministry of Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Secretary Amjad Ali Khan said, “Pakistan is doing what majority of the countries did 25 years ago.” He said most people in Pakistan are not acquainted with how the virus spreads and their attitude toward HIV positive patients is reflective of this. These people avoid having any contact with the patients such as shaking hands, hugging or even eating with them.
Religious scholar Maulana Shamshad Ali Shaad said the spread of HIV/AIDS can be controlled without financial support. “People think that just by offering prayers they have fulfilled their religious obligation though there are many others aspects which need to be adhered to for a better and healthy living,” he said, adding that under the AIDS prevention campaigns people would be stopped from having illicit sexual relationships, which is also strictly prohibited in Islam. Shaad added that it is unfortunate that no laws exist to stop the use of reused syringes.
Renowned TV personality Khalid Abbas Dar, winner of the Sitar-e-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance, said that message of AIDS control should also be disseminated through radio as it is a more powerful medium than TV and print.
Assistant country representative of UNFPA Naseer Nizamani said 20 years ago donors were very interested in funding AIDS programmes but now they are more inclined toward maternal and reproductive health. “Therefore, there is a need to come up with innovative ideas to link AIDS with maternal and reproductive health to attract donors,” he said.
A short play was also performed on the occasion which highlighted the common means of transmission of HIV.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2011.