LAHORE: “I used to be a drug addict, now I raise awareness among addicts about the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS from sharing syringes,” Ahmed Bakhsh Awan of Roshan Rasta, a partner of the Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP), said on Monday.
He was addressing an event organised by the Health Department to mark the AIDS Day, observed around the world on December 1. Awan spoke of his organisation’s work in Faisalabad, Sargodha and Lahore on raising awareness about preventative measures. He said they reached around 8,000 drug users in these districts each day and provided various services in rehabilitating them. “It is a shame when a society shuns such people rather than helping them recover.”
Health Services Director General Zahid Pervaiz, PACP Director Dr Salman Shahid and Dr Altaf Tariq of the Punjab Aids Consortium spoke at the event. They discussed the need to sensitise citizens regarding HIV/AIDS patients and to remember those who had succumbed to the deadly disease.
Dr Pervaiz said the department had adopted a zero tolerance policy towards eliminating and preventing HIV/AIDS [the theme for the event as well]. He said they were gunning for registration of all patients suffering from the disease in the province and to provide them medical services and counselling. “We need to work on this together... all of us. Let us educate ourselves about the disease, let us talk about it with everyone we meet. But most importantly let us pay a tribute to the patients who have fallen to the deadly virus,” he said.
Pakistan has around 125,000 HIV/AIDS patients, 65,000 of whom are in the Punjab, the DG said. “Of them, only 7,000 patients are registered with the department. They are given counselling and medical services at the department’s Voluntary Confidential Counselling and Testing (VCT) Centres and HIV/AIDS Treatment Centres,” he said.
“Why do we hate HIV/AIDS patients?” Dr Tariq said. “Is it because they are associated with extra-marital sex? Because they do drugs? Do you know many of them contract the virus because of a mistake on a doctor’s or nurse’s part? Many get it from a shared blade at a barber’s shop.” He spoke on the need to tear down the taboos around the subject and to accept such patients as a part of the society.
He said a patient he had met once at one of the voluntary centres had told him that it was not contracting AIDS that bothered him as much as the way the people around him treated him. Dr Tariq said they had come across several incidents in which the patients’ families denied them ghusl (bathing) and shrouding when they died because no one wanted to touch them.
“We need to realise that we are all at risk of acquiring the disease... no one chooses to become an AIDS patient. This requires the utmost sensitivity and compassion on our part... let us renew our resolve to be more accepting and compassionate towards these patients,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2014.
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