PESHAWAR: The K-P AIDS Control Program is proving ineffective for the transgender community as fear of isolation has kept their members from coming forward and registering themselves with the program.
The number of HIV/AIDS infected transgender patients across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has climbed up to 450, but only 22 of those have registered themselves with the provincial AIDS control program.
The figure is widely disputed, however, since the number of HIV-infected people is thought to be significantly higher as many hide the disease from their friends and family, and do not undergo medical testing.
Ever since 24 year-old Dewani was disowned by the transgender community after testing positive for HIV/AIDS last year, many have been reluctant in coming forward and admitting they suffer from the illness.
For the transgenders, the deadly disease is especially dangerous as they are at a high risk of infection because of the nature of their work: having sex for a living.
A few members of the group in K-P have also complained that as young people gradually replace the old in the transgender community, the latter are being left behind with empty pockets.
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“You lose your beauty, you are no more required, and this is what is compelling them to indulge in immoral activities: to get food, pay rent and ultimately to fall prey to HIV/AIDS ,” K-P head for the transgender community Farzana told The Express Tribune.
Farzana says Iqbal Plaza, where a majority of the community members reside, is a place where you will find people from almost all age groups, waiting for transgenders to satisfy their bodily desires.
"Some of them are even married," Farzana said.
“Now what other options do [those who are not selected for programs] have to earn bread and pay rents for their rooms?” Farzana questioned, adding that, "We have been demanding a separate and secure location for our community members, but the government is yet to consider the appeal."
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K-P Aids Control Program Project Director Dr Saleem, while talking to The Express Tribune, stated the number of centers for diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS has been expanded to all divisional headquarters, with two of them located in the provincial capital.
“This was done only to help people take advantage of such facilities at the nearest possible place,” Saleem said.
According to official figures, the AIDS control program has 3500 registered patients across the province.
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He, however, stressed upon support from media organizations, civil society activists and the social media to help fight the stigma associated with the disease, since many people have refused to register themselves as patients out of fear that they will be isolated by the society, and even their own family.
Based on a 2011 survey, it has been revealed that 7.2% of the total HIV/AIDS patients are transgender, 1.6% male and 0.6% female sex workers, whereas some 27% are drug users.
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