Monday, April 09, 2007

HIV/AIDS in Pakistan

Ashfaq Yusufzai:

Nearly 4,000 people with HIV/Aids have reported at treatment centres around Pakistan, government and World Health Organisation (WHO) officials say.

The figure is a fraction of the total number of Pakistanis with the virus.

A UNAids report last year said that between 80,000 and 140,000 people were infected - and the rate could spiral because of under-reporting of cases.

The WHO has been funding a three-year, $4.5m anti-retroviral programme in Pakistan since late 2005.

The drugs for the programme are imported from India, and a number of doctors and nurses have been trained for the purpose in India and Italy.

An HIV-Aids newsletter of the Ministry of Health put the total number of reported cases at 3,933, but only about 618 of them were registered with nine treatment centres countrywide.

Pakistani officials say a low detection rate and stigma associated with the disease were hampering the treatment of HIV/Aids patients.

The problem is further compounded by a lack of awareness about the infection.

"People think it is exclusively caused by adultery, and are therefore reluctant to approach health services," says Quaid Saeed, WHO's national medical officer for HIV/Aids in Pakistan.

A joint study conducted recently by UNAids and the Aga Khan Univeristy in Karachi reported that 80% of known cases in Pakistan involved people who had been deported from the Gulf states for having Aids.

Lack of detection "may cause an Aids epidemic in Pakistan, especially among high-risk population sub-groups such as injecting drug users, sex workers and unsuspecting spouses," says Mr Saeed.

USAID is extending its HIV/AIDS prevention and care project in Pakistan

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