Alarming surge in HIV/AIDS cases in five districts of Punjab

Published June 12, 2019
Authorities ‘hush up’ the issue to avoid criticism. — Reuters/File
Authorities ‘hush up’ the issue to avoid criticism. — Reuters/File

FAISALABAD: The number of HIV-positive persons is increasing at an alarming rate in the five districts of Punjab -- Faisalabad, Chiniot, Sahiwal, Jhang and Nankana -- and currently more than 2,800 such patients from these areas are registered with the Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP) for free medicines.

According to PACP sources, the programme’s Faisalabad unit set up in a room at the Allied Hospital that provides free medicines to the HIV/AIDS patients registered with it, receives 70 to 90 cases of the ailment monthly from these five districts.

They say that most of these patients come to know about their condition through screening tests conducted before donating blood, travelling abroad or undergoing a surgery.

It is worrying that in spite of such a high incidence of HIV-positive persons in these areas, neither the provincial government, nor the district administrations so far organised any screening camps to know the reasons for such a high number of the HIV patients.

Authorities ‘hush up’ the issue to avoid criticisim

The sources said that since the surfacing of a large number of HIV/AIDS cases in Ratto Dero taaulqa of Larkana district, Sindh, earned a bad name for the province’s government, the authorities concerned in Punjab were not highlighting the issue to save their skin.

They said that the concerned PACP staff had strictly been warned against leaking any information with regard to the high incidence of the disease here.

Acting on the verbal directions by the authorities, the PACP officials at the Allied Hospital were not ready to share the figures of patients officialy, nor they were willing to divulge the areas from where the patients coming and how they contacted the virus.

Meanwhile, The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), expressing its serious concern over the situation, severely criticised the district administrations for their failure to check the menace of quackery in their respective areas which, it termed a major source of HIV/AIDS spread.

Discussing the issue during a meeting held here on Monday night with Dr Saulat Nawaz in the chair, the members of PMA also accused the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) of condoning quackery.

They alleged that the so-called anti-quackery operations launched from time to time were just a source of increasing the monthly bribe of the officials concerned.

The sources pointed out that the practice of refusing surgeries to HIV/AIDS patients by the public hospitals was also a cause of the disease’s spread. Such patients then had no option but to approach private hospitals where they undergo the knife without blood screening, they added. This resulted in spread of the virus to other patients who undergo surgeries at the private hospitals through poorly manged surgical instruments.

They said the quacks, especially fake dentists, also spread the virus by using instruments that were not sterilised.

The PMA Faisalabad chapter secretary Dr Mohammad Irfan who is also working as an assistant professor of medicine at the Allied Hospital, said the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned Pakistan that it was registering approximately 20,000 new HIV/AIDS cases annually, the highest rate in the region.

He said the quacks, coupled with sex workers and transgenders, were also contributing to disease spread. He regretted that quacks were running private hospitals and the district administration was taking no action against them.

He added that mortality ratio among Pakistanis carrying the virus was also rising, in spite of the availability of lifesaving Antiretroviral drugs.

He said the PMA would take up the issue with the concerned quarters to fight the menace rather than hiding the facts.

Neither Deputy Commissioner Saifullah Dogar, nor Commissioner Javeed Bhatti replied to the queries sent by this scribe with regard to surge in HIV/AIDS cases.

A message was also sent to the provincial minister for health, Dr Yasmin Rashid, but she did not reply.

Dr Mushtaq Sipra, chief executive officer of the Faisalabad health authority, told Dawn that the PACP staff did not share any information regarding its functions and data of patients with the authority.

“I will contact the head of the PACP in Faisalabad Dr Nazia and ask her to submit a report on the issue,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019

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