ISLAMABAD: Highlighting the plight of HIV positive patients, speakers at a seminar stressed the need to tackle the spread of the disease as a major hurdle towards the development of the country. The seminar was held at Islamabad Hotel to observe World AIDS Day on Wednesday. The event was organised by the Ministry of Health under the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in collaboration with UN.
Palwasha, an HIV positive patient, shared her story with participants at the seminar. Palwasha was infected with HIV following a blood transfusion. She said that she learned about her disease one year after her marriage. “I remained silent for a year and when I finally shared it with my family, I was severely criticised and abused,” she said. However, her husband supported her in getting treatment. “Now I am working to create awareness and help other HIV/AIDS patients,” she added.
The seminar included a play that highlighted the common ways of HIV transmission and its prevention among high-risk groups and the general population. The play also highlighted how inappropriately people behave with HIV/AIDS patients.
Speaking on the occasion, Manager NACP Sajid Ahmed said, “Spread of HIV/AIDS should not be solely taken as a health challenge but a major hurdle towards the development of the country.” The disease is affecting the country’s culture and economy, he added.
Ahmed said the country is still facing the same challenges it was facing ten years ago in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS. “The increase in the rate of unemployment among youth is one of the major reasons behind this epidemic,” said Ahmed. He said that when the youth does not have jobs, they spend their time doing unproductive activities and are at risk of indulging into “wrong activities”. Currently the number of male sex workers is increasing in the country as compared to transvestite sex workers and female sex workers. “There is a dire need to create awareness among these sex workers, as many of them have not adopted safe sex practices.”
Ahmed further said that Tuberculosis (TB) is a leading cause of death among HIV/AIDS patients in Pakistan. He said that Pakistan ranks 8th among the 22 high burden countries for TB and represents 5.1 per cent of the total national burden of the disease. He added that Pakistan will get the Global Fund Round 9 HIV Grant by 2011 to help injecting drug users.
Federal Minister for Health Makhdoom Shahabuddin said that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that affects all nations and cannot be controlled by simple measures like improving the quality of drinking water, eradicating mosquitoes or mass immunisation. “The diseases can only be eradicated by people taking responsibility of their own lives and those around them.” Prevention is our most powerful tool against this epidemic, said Ahmed. He said that it is time to act decisively and to act together with a simple message, “We have to stop its spread.” He urged parents to have open discussions with their children about HIV/AIDS and not to discourage them if they make any enquiries about the disease.
The health minister added that lack of resources is a major challenge the present government is facing for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and TB.
Federal Secretary for Health Khushnood Akhtar Lashari, Director General Health Rashid Jooma, Country Director International Labour Organization Donglin Li, Country Head World Health Organization Dr Guido Sabatenelli, along with officials of UN, civil society representatives and HIV positive patients were also present on the occasion.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2010.
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