Punjab AIDS epidemic

January 13, 2020


DISTURBING reports are emerging from Punjab where there has been a surge in HIV/AIDS cases owing to the alleged mismanagement of the provincial AIDS control programme, which is said to be on the verge of collapse. The number of registered AIDS patients in the province has risen to an alarming 18,556, comprising about 50pc of the total number of registered cases across the country — 36,900. Apparently, the provincial AIDS control programme has been marred by internal rifts for quite some time, as a result of which at least four key officials resigned from their positions in November 2019. Meanwhile, the programme is said to have bungled the monitoring and screening of the top five at-risk population groups in the province — injecting drug users, transgender people, male and female sex workers, and truck and bus drivers — and misreported the total number of HIV/AIDS patients in the province. As if this was not enough, the Punjab government has also supposedly failed to obtain 100,000 rapid diagnostic kits used for screening of patients, increasing the chances of a looming HIV/AIDS epidemic in the province.

While the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is declining worldwide, in Pakistan, the figure seems to be steadily increasing. According to the 2019 UNAIDS report, HIV incidence per 1,000 people in Pakistan has risen from 0.08 in 2010 to 0.11 in 2018 — despite “massive funding” by foreign donors to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS — earning us a place among 11 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of the disease. Last year, Larkana district gained global notoriety after almost 900 people, out of whom more than 750 were children, tested positive for HIV/AIDS in the small town of Ratodero. These frequent outbreaks, however, are symptomatic of the larger malaise in the country’s healthcare and governance system, and thus reek of mismanagement and negligence by the authorities concerned. The Punjab Health Department needs to wake up and tackle this crisis head on before the damage becomes incontrollable.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2020