It was very encouraging to see five HIV/Aids patients attending a seminar organised by the Sindh Aids Control Programme to mark World Aids Day on December 1. These patients had successfully entered treatment and become confident enough to face the world and share their experiences. The prevalence of HIV/Aids in Pakistan is not as low as some would like to believe. Statistics show there are an estimated 97,400 HIV cases in Pakistan currently. As scientists are working to produce better drugs and, possibly, discover a cure for HIV/Aids, western countries have made all possible efforts to address this issue in their societies and developed extensive programmes for its prevention and treatment. Pakistan’s health infrastructure, like other developing countries, has yet to build its capacity to combat this deadly disease, whose lifelong treatment requires special drugs and comprehensive programmes. Not just the disease, but also the fear and stigma it brings to patients and their families need to be addressed by creating awareness. The family members/friends of the patient also need counselling because their support is crucial for the successful treatment and survival of the patient. Many patients do not seek treatment for fear of social rejection and become a source of spreading infection.
Given the deadly and infectious nature of this ailment and a substantial number of infected patients in Pakistan, its potential for affecting a larger section of the population cannot be ignored. It is spread mostly by an exchange of infected body fluids and use of infected syringes. Drug users who use syringes to inject drugs are particularly vulnerable. Various Aids control initiatives taken by the government have been piecemeal and marred by lack of funding. The Sindh Aids Control Programme is doing excellent work by raising awareness and offering therapy and counselling services to patients and their families. It can serve as a model to be replicated by other provinces. Unfortunately, like other development projects, its funding has been suspended by the World Bank following a revision of its priorities in the wake of the floods. The Punjab government terminated a World Bank-funded Aids control programme in May this year. It is imperative for the health authorities to ensure that this is a temporary setback and a reasonable amount of funds is allocated towards prevention in the next budget. Also, the National Aids Control Programme should be extended to the district level to ensure that the maximum number of people gain awareness and enter treatment – Dailytimes