Social taboos: Patients choose quiet death over treatment

Of more than 100,000 cases, only 9,865 are registered with the AIDS control programme .

Umer Farooq November 30, 2014


Of the estimated 100,000 HIV/AIDS patients in the country, only 9,865 have sought treatment while the rest live in isolation fearing registration with the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) will bring a bad name to them and their families.

Such patients prefer to gradually die from the disease at home instead of reaching out to health facilities because of the stigma associated with the illness. They live secluded lives boycotted by society and disowned by their own families.

According to data available with the provincial health department, the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is 16,000 with only 1,747 patients receiving medical assistance at established centres. Of these 1,239 are men, 427 women while the remaining are children.

The provincial capital has 228 registered patients receiving treatment in HIV/AIDs care centres, followed by 110 patients in Bannu, 76 in Lower Dir, 75 in Charsadda, 69 in Swat, 57 in Upper Dir and 53 in Swabi. Similarly, Hangu has 45 registered patients, Lakki Marwat 44, Nowshera 38, Mardan 34 and Kohat has 33.

As per the provincial health department’s data, 27.2% of the registered patients were infected while sharing syringes to inject drugs. Nearly 7.2% caught the disease due to sexual relations with men and transgenders.

Countering perceptions

Health experts are of the opinion that awareness is imperative to counter the disease’s perception and its spread.

Dr Fazle Maula, former project director of HIV/Aids Control Programme, Peshawar told The Express Tribune the Global Fund and National AIDS Control Programme are putting all their efforts towards creating awareness about the fatal disease.

“The main method of contraction is shared syringes among drug users. This group is not aware about the repercussions and continue with the lethal practice,” said Maula.

According to Maula, the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS causes patients to remain silent and not seek treatment. “Sometimes even doctors are reluctant to socialise with such patients and ignore them,” he said.

“Awareness campaigns need to be conducted for people to know the disease is not transmitted by shaking hands or having meals with a patient, but because of carelessness and ignorance,” he added.

Dr Maula explained the estimated cost of treating an HIV/AIDS patient is around Rs22,000 per month. “The Global Fund has been helping us cover this cost, however, our contract ends in 2016 and the government needs to get ready to fight the disease on a war-footing.”

Where to go

According to the NACP website, there are 15 HIV treatment and care centres nationwide. These centres provide comprehensive HIV care services including free antiretroviral therapy, free advanced HIV diagnostics, management of HIV-related opportunistic infections and counselling services to HIV-positive people in the country.

Two of these centres are in K-P; one in Hayatabad Medical Complex while another is at District Headquarters Hospital Kohat. Using latest technology for diagnosis, they provide medical assistance to HIV/AIDS patients as well as services of Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission.

The provincial government has also been working on setting up HIV/AIDS screening centres for injected drug users. Recently, screening tests were also conducted inside the Central Prison Peshawar.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2014.


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