LAHORE: Due to the government’s lack of interest and public ignorance, HIV/AIDS has become a silent killer in most parts of Punjab. The majority of people diagnosed are at the last stage of the disease and that too after coming in contact with several people, The Express Tribune has learnt.
According to data compiled by the Punjab Health department, a staggering 52,000 of the total 90,000 or so HIV-positive patients in the country are from the province.
According to a government report, certain parts of Punjab, including Lahore, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Rawalpindi, Gujrat, Faisalabad and Sargodha are among the vulnerable areas.
“In one area of Gujrat, 90% of the population is affected by AIDs, including mothers and children,” claimed Dr Attaullah of the Mayo Hospital. “We are treating more than 15 people on a daily basis at the medical facility and this shows people are contracting the disease at a rapid rate.”
He said health officials had already suggested an awareness campaign on HIV prevention and the use of safety gear such as condoms.
“A person who has multiple sexual partners or gets blood transfusions without proper screening is more prone to HIV,” he added.
A health department spokesman said people are now catching the disease at birth as the Punjab AIDs Control Programme has registered several infants who got it from their mothers.
“Since the sex trade is illegal, workers involved in it do not hold screening certificates and that is one of the main reasons behind the spread of the virus.”
The spokesperson said HIV is not a stigma anymore as many people have even gotten it from barber shops or blood transfusions.
“We have established rehabilitation centres in these areas. They helped a great deal in controlling the spread,” the spokesman added.
He said people were reluctant to register at the rehabilitation centres due to the taboos associated with the virus.
He said awareness was the key to preventing AIDS among the youth. “Many AIDS patients do not receive appropriate support and care. Many others are unaware of preventive measures,” he said.
The Punjab Aids Control Programme is organising a free month-long medical camp for truck and bus drivers.
The camp provides free medical tests for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C for the drivers. The programme started similar camps at the Ravi Truck Station in Lahore and Sargodha, said the spokesman of the initiative.
“Besides free testing services, the camp provides awareness over HIV and hepatitis B and C” he added.
The spokesperson said Gujranwala is one of the main industrial centres of the province and one of the busiest transport hubs in the province. “There are plans to open such facilities in other busy centres for truck drives in Kot Addu, Attock and other areas of Southern Punjab.”
Blood without screening
The Punjab Blood Transfusion Authority (PBTA) was constituted in 1998 to ensure the provision of safe blood to people. The authority has largely been unable to fulfill its objective as dubious blood banks continue to flourish.
“There are 450 unauthorised blood banks functioning across the province,” commented Dr Salman Kazmi . “Unfortunately, there is no law to regulate them.”
He stressed on the need to start a vigorous campaign to promote public awareness on preventive measures.
He added it was the responsibility of the government of Punjab to initiate such a move. The health department spokesman also acknowledged the PBTA’s ineffectiveness. He said the government will look into the law and was working towards the establishment of a centralised blood banking system.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2017.
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