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Dawn dot com (Pakistan): Aids prevention

Aids prevention
from, August 21, 2011

THE World Health Organisation has expressed concern over the detection of at least 10 HIV/Aids cases in two Khyber Pakhtunkhwa jails. The global body has called for access to inmates so that they can be screened and provided treatment where necessary. The cases were detected when an organisation was carrying out screening for hepatitis in the jails. The chief justice had last year called for jail inmates to be screened for Aids, yet nothing was done in this regard. Though fortunately the spread of HIV/Aids in Pakistan is far less than in some other countries, matters are not ideal.

According to the UN, the country faces an HIV/Aids “concentrated epidemic”, which is moving from the cities to smaller towns. One figure suggests there are between 100,000 to 130,000 people living with HIV/Aids in Pakistan. Injecting drug users and commercial sex workers form the highest risk group, with up to 30 per cent of all injecting drug users affected by HIV. Migrant workers who contracted the condition overseas also risk infecting their spouses.

As the number of HIV/Aids cases rises annually, the state needs to adjust its strategy accordingly. The funding crunch and capacity issues where healthcare professionals are concerned need to be addressed while there is a need to sensitise not only the medical community but the public at large as people living with Aids are often stigmatised in this society. There is also a need to continue to work with high-risk groups, especially regarding safe sexual practices. This can be challenging in a country with conservative mores such as Pakistan. But as the UN recommends, HIV prevention ideas can be “adapted to religious and socio-cultural realities”. Considering the link between drug users and the spread of Aids, the problem of unsafe injecting practices also needs to be approached. It may not be too late to prevent the further escalation of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Pakistan. If the state, working in tandem with community-based organisations, focuses on prevention and education, HIV/Aids can hopefully be tackled before it spirals out of control.

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