Health officials fear an AIDS outbreak at Central Prison Peshawar.
The presence of three inmates who have AIDS and overcrowding at the provincial capital’s jail have fueled concerns. The facility houses over 2,150 prisoners – five times more than its actual capacity.
A jail official requesting anonymity said most barracks in the prison are overcrowded.
“We do have a health centre where the patients are being treated,” he added, saying the carriers are stigmatised to an extent that they will choose death over being identified.
When asked if their families are aware of their condition, the official said the prisoners have not informed them. “Most inmates have lost hope and are too dispirited to fight their circumstances,” he said.
Dr Fazl-e-Maula, a former employee of the now defunct K-P AIDS Control Programme, said there are numerous reasons to fear an outbreak. “Usage of unsterilised dissection tools and previously-used syringes can contribute to the spread,” he said, adding sexual intercourse between inamtes also constitutes as a threat for the spread of the disease.
According to data available with the health department, there are 16,000 carriers of the disease in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but only 1,747 patients receive medical assistance.
Around 1,500 patients are registered at Hayatabad Medical Complex, while the rest at a health facility in Kohat. Out of the registered patients, only 228 are receiving medical assistance at HIV/AIDS care centres in the provincial capital, 110 in Bannu, 76 in Lower Dir, 75 in Charsadda, 69 in Swat, 57 in Upper Dir, 53 in Swabi, 45 in Hangu, 44 in Lakki Marwat, 38 in Nowshera, 34 in Mardan and only 33 patients are being treated in Kohat.
While the carrier count continues to grow, the government has already shut down K-P AIDS Control Programme last year.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, a former programme official said the initiative’s closure was preferred over a possible merger with the health department on a model similar to that of the Expanded Programme for Immunization.
He said the project was launched in 2004-05 with the primary aim of spreading the word about preventive measures amongst the masses. “I do not think the closure will have affected treatment procedures but it sure retracted the awareness campaigns that were under way,” he said, adding medical assistance is still being provided with help from the federal government and international donor agencies but keeping the growing number of cases in mind, awareness campaigns were a vital part of the AIDS prevention initiative.
Official statistics suggest the total number of HIV/AIDS patients in Pakistan hovers above 100,000, but only 9,865 have registered themselves with the National AIDS Control Programme.
When approached for a comment, Health DG Dr Parvez Kamal told The Express Tribune the provincial government has readjusted the programme objectives and two health centres are still providing medical assistance to patients. “A monitoring cell has been set up at the directorate and a PC-1 of contingency plans pertaining to AIDS control is also ready,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2015.