Pakistan’s HIV epidemic can perhaps be assuaged by careful introspection. The study by the National Aids Control Programme and Unaids, entitled Mapping of key populations in Pakistan 2015-2016, will hopefully help to shed light on targeted areas of improvement in which various health and other government departments can participate. The ground realities as they stand, however, can be better handled by the population if we pay attention to one key area: the stigma regarding HIV and, namely, who is a carrier. Although statisticians and health scientists can offer the research, until we become more tolerant of people who have this terrible infliction can we begin to deal with the problem. The central issue of the HIV epidemic is a lack of awareness and the stigma surrounding the ailment. We must overcome these hurdles if we are to treat sufferers in a humane way, and then eventually alleviate the problem.
HIV patients do not choose their conditions; the onus of contracting the disease — or predisposition through inheritance from a parent — does not fall on the patient. Before chastising them — a favourite pastime of some of our brethren — we need to realise that the infliction may be from a worsening condition in a person with HIV, where their immunity is attenuated to the point of acquiring full-blown Aids. Some empathy would go a long way. Contracting a disease that has no cure brings with it grave anxiety and depression, such as patients with cancer might describe. The 132,000 HIV patients in Pakistan, according to a Global Fund survey, would allude to the same.
This latest mapping study could provide a fresh boost to the HIV/Aids epidemic in Pakistan, which has been kept hush for so long. We must deal with the reality because it is the humanitarian thing to do, regardless of our conservative social constructs. Our personal biases must be pushed aside and we must remember we are still dealing with suffering human beings.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2017.
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