For a long time, we have fooled ourselves into believing that AIDS/HIV is not a serious problem in our country. The disease continues to be associated with certain kinds of lifestyle. In the hypocritical environment we have created for ourselves, we like to believe that such behaviour does not exist in our midst. This is a dangerous misconception.
A new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS/HIV states that among 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan hosts a majority of people infected with HIV. According to UNAIDS, HIV prevalence in Pakistan nearly doubled from 11 per cent in 2005 to 21 per cent in 2008. The use of injectable drugs is seen as the key factor in this. Previous studies conducted locally have also come up with the same findings. Most of those carrying the infection are young and the stigma they suffer often means they are unable to obtain the help and support that they need.
It is time that we learnt to face reality and address the issue before it worsens. The World Bank in past reports has noted that the problem in Pakistan has the potential of a very rapid multiplication in the number of people with the disease. We need to take measures immediately. In the first place, far greater awareness about the modes of transmission needs to be created and widely publicised. We cannot afford to be coy about this. In the past, television advertising has been so oblique that it has left people mystified rather than informed. This needs to change. We must also work to alter the ill-founded notions people have about HIV and those who suffer from it. These people do not deserve to be discriminated against, especially in a society such as ours with no counselling or safety nets. We need more openness about the illness and a willingness to accept the fact that it must be dealt with just like we need to deal with all the other issues in our society that we tend to ignore for ‘moral’ reasons.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.