ISLAMABAD: Twenty-six-year old Abdul Baser has already undertaken three extensive journeys in an attempt to get treatment for HIV.
He first went to Kabul from his hometown of Khost – an eastern Afghan city. Unable to procure the medical attention he needed there, Baser then sought a visit visa for Pakistan to seek treatment in Peshawar. That too proved unfruitful and Baser is now at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad.
Baser’s odyssey began in February when he visited a clinic in Khost after suffering from flu and mysterious rashes for a few weeks. He says the clinic tested him for HIV and found he was positive, but he refuses to explain how he may have contracted the disease.
The clinic told him that the only functioning AIDS treatment centre was in Kabul. Consequently, he set off for the capital city. In Kabul, Baser was prescribed a round of antiretroviral drugs but the centre did not have a viral load machine to monitor the effectiveness of drugs and amend his dosage.
Told that his best bet for further treatment was Peshawar, Baser embarked on a new journey in June. But luck did not side with him again. The only dedicated AIDS treatment centre in Peshawar – and one of just two of its kind in the province – is in Hayatabad, but this clinic too does not have a viral load machine.
The clinic in Hayatabad was opened in conjunction with the provincial HIV-AIDS Control Programme. A total of about 700 HIV-positive patients from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas have registered with the programme.
Dr Sher Muhammad, the head of the programme, says that about one per cent of the K-P population is HIV-positive or suffering from AIDS but the percentage is much higher for sex workers and the gay and transgendered community.
An official from the clinic in Hayatabad says that about 10-15 people from Afghanistan come to them for treatment every year while over 100 locals are also seeking their assistance.
Most of these patients have to be sent to Islamabad because the clinic does not have a viral load machine. The official says that the machine costs up to Rs5 million and is too expensive to acquire for most facilities.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2011.