You can take a horse to the pond, they say, but you cannot make it drink the water. A similar paradoxical situation exists In Punjab and most parts of the country with regard to the rising number of AIDS/HIV patients and unwillingness on the part of an overwhelming number of them to avoid treatment even though the provincial government is providing them medicines for free. A serious fallout of this is that the untreated patients are contributing to the spread of the disease. A quick glance at the statistics will explain the enigma. Out of the 190,000 patients of AIDS/HIV in the country, Punjab has around half of these. About 90% of such patients in the province forego the free medicines, as they are hesitant to reveal their illness due to the social stigma attached to it. They suffer in silence. Their medical status remains unknown due to this reason.
This situation has placed the provincial health department in a dilemma as to how to cure AIDS/HIV patients and prevent the spread of the disease in the face of the non-cooperative attitude of most patients. The hesitation on the part of patients emanates not only from the societal attitude of stigmatising those infected with the contagious disease but also from the superstition prevailing in society. There is also the issue of the general lack of a proper sense of hygiene. All this has led physicians and the government into a triple jeopardy. The use of one syringe on several patients accounts for 45% cases of AIDS/HIV in the country. Unsafe sex and the practice of barbers to shave many customers with one sword blade are other contributing factors.
The tendency of people to avoid and dangerously delay proper treatment for various diseases is causing many avoidable deaths. It is as important to raise general awareness about seeking treatment as the provision of free medicines and treatment. One should not be too intelligent to apply self-medication.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2021.