KARACHI: While calling upon the government to scale-up testing services for HIV/AIDS and ensure implementation of infection control measures at healthcare facilities, experts described the progress against the much-feared viral infection as ‘too slow’ despite ‘an alarming increase’ in the number of new infections and mortalities across the country.
The experts referred to UNAIDS data that showed the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan had increased from 75,000 in 2010 to 270,000 in 2022. The mortalities recorded in 2010 were 2,000 and it had risen to 12,000 in 2022.
Speaking at a seminar held on Wednesday at a local hotel, they also urged the government to take financial ownership of the HIV programme currently being run with foreign donors’ support.
The seminar was jointly organised by Bridge Consultants Foundation and United Nations Development Programme in connection with World AIDS Day.
Experts say 80pc people with HIV don’t know their status
According to experts, new HIV infections and deaths from the disease have been declining in the world for the past several years as a result of more widespread testing and increased access to ‘the effective’ treatment as well as more education.
Unfortunately, they pointed out, Pakistan had failed to benefit from the advancements made in the field and learn from other countries. In fact, the situation was worsening in the country.
Referring to UNAIDS data, they said that the number of cases among women had risen from 9,000 to 49,000 and from 830 to 6,700 among children.
The data on new infections isn’t available.
In India, the data showed, new infections per year had reduced from 120,000 in 2010 to 66,000.
“The foremost challenge we face is that 80 per cent of the people with HIV don’t know that they have contracted the infection and those who know their status are not getting the treatment, thereby increasing the risk for transmission,” explained Dr Syed Sharaf Ali Shah of BCF.
Citing data, he said only 56,268 patients out of the 270,000 people with HIV in the country knew their status and that 34,368 patients were on antiretroviral therapy (ART) — a combination of HIV medicines.
Pakistan, he said, was far away from the global targets set for elimination of HIV/AIDS under which 95pc of people with HIV needed to know their status and the same number was required to be put on ART.
“We have been facing an HIV/AIDS epidemic in key populations including injecting drug users, transgender community and male sex workers for the past many years, that’s now affecting the general population,” he added.
In his presentation, Dr Muhammad Rafiq Khanani, who heads Infection Control Society of Pakistan, said today HIV/AIDS was easy to diagnose and its transmission could be prevented 100pc with the help of ART.
He called for ending the stigma attached to the disease, while sharing that apart from risky sexual behaviour, blood transfusion and medical procedures carried out without proper infection control measures could also transmit the infection.
Senior psychiatrist Dr Iqbal Afridi talked about the mental health issues associated with HIV/AIDS and said that quality of life was often compromised in such patients as they experienced depression and other psychological disorders.
Former director ART centre at Civil Hospital Karachi Dr Azra Abro, senior pathologist Dr Arshad Memon and child specialist Dr Shaheena Qayyum also spoke.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2023