The largest-ever project in Pakistan designed to minimise the risk of HIV transmission among injecting drug users is to be launched shortly in 24 districts of Sindh of Punjab, the chief executive of Nai Zindagi Trust told media on Saturday.
The $43 million five-year programme is to be financed by Global Fund and will be implemented through the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) and Nai Zindagi Trust. It aims at scaling up harm reduction services to injecting drug users (IDUs) and their partners and aims to cater to 28,000 people – almost one third of the estimated number of IDUs in Pakistan.
Chief Executive Tariq Zafar said a ‘comprehensive package’ of HIV prevention services will be provided in 10 districts of Sindh and 14 districts of Punjab. The services will also be provided to the spouses and partners of IDUs, he added.
Zafar said the intervention package includes a needle and syringe exchange, basic medical care, counselling on preventive measures, provision of contraceptives as well as early HIV detection.
Explaining the needle and syringe exchange concept, he said there was an alarming proportion of HIV among the IDUs who frequently exchange used syringes that can transmit the deadly virus to other IDUs and their partners.
According to studies, there are 500,000 chronic opiate users in Pakistan, with 20 per cent of them injecting drugs.
No HIV prevention programme since 2009
Since June 2009, there has been no programme for blocking HIV transmission among people sharing drugs or sex workers, the main drivers of HIV in the country.
While the World Bank expressed serious reservations over the termination of the contract, attempts for revival of the project failed, and the World Bank and Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom pulled out funding from Punjab and subsequently from Sindh. This resulted in closure of services to over 14,000 individuals and families in Punjab and an additional 6,000 individuals in Sindh.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.