KARACHI - Despite spending millions of rupees to curb the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the province, the Sindh government and various local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been unable to control the rising number of patients reported with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Pakistan Today has learnt.
As the world celebrated the AIDS day 2011 on the theme ‘Getting to Zero’ on Thursday, Pakistan struggles to cope with an ever increasing estimated population of 100,000 HIV carriers as well as AIDS positive patients
In a report compiled by the Sindh AIDS Control Programme (SACP), 140 new HIV/AIDS cases were reported in Karachi, Hyderabad and Larkana districts from July 1 to September 30.
The report forwarded recently to the Sindh Health Department stated that the total number of HIV/AIDS patients in the Sindh province alone now stand at 4,325, raising many eyebrows on the poor performance of the provincial health department and institutions working to control the chronic disease.
Well-placed sources in the provincial government told Pakistan Today that Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah also expressed disappointment over the poor performance of the authorities concerned in eradicating HIV/AIDS from the province, particularly in its major cities – Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur.
The SACP’s figures, collected from different state-run hospitals in the province, showed that the dreaded virus is spreading rapidly in the province and a large number of people lost their lives during the three months. The number of HIV-positive patients is far greater than the people reported with AIDS.
During the first quarter – from January 1 to March 31 – at least 153 patients were registered in the province confirmed with HIV, including 146 males and four females, while three of the male patients had AIDS.
Another 274 HIV/AIDS patients were registered at various state-run health institutions from April 1 to June 30.
Informing about the spread of HIV in Sindh during the past few years, the sources said that there were around 582 registered HIV/AIDS positive patients in 2003 and their number touched 988 in 2004.
Gradually rising ever since, the number of HIV positive patients reached 1,229 in 2005, 1,670 in 2006, 1,890 in 2007, 2,271 in 2008, 3,581 in 2009 and 3,500 in 2010. Simultaneously, the number of patients with AIDS also increased from 85 in 2003 to 102 in 2004, 106 in 2005, 108 in 2006, 163 in 2007, 168 in 2008 and 192 in the year 2009, the sources disclosed.
The World AIDS Day 2011 theme of ‘Getting to Zero’ lays equal emphasis on zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths that hold absolute relevance in Pakistan as despite growing awareness and subtle acceptance that people are not immune to infections, the patients are still reluctant to divulge their health status.
“This is mainly because of the impression – often including exaggeration – that the root cause of the spread of HIV is physical promiscuity with HIV/AIDS patients,” says a senior researcher. “However, the vast majority of HIV carriers are found to be drug abusers using each others syringes.”
There are around 45,000 to 50,000 HIV carriers in the province, but those registered for procurement of the needed medical assistance stand at only 4,325, said the expert, also associated with the SACP. “It is mainly because of the low socio-economic status of these less fortunate souls that has enhanced their vulnerability to discrimination.”
The In-charge of HIV/AIDS Treatment Centre at Civil Hospital, Karachi says that women constitute 12 to 15 percent of the registered HIV carriers.
“They are predominantly those who contracted the virus either due to transfusion of contaminated blood or were exposed to infection while undergoing surgical procedures at facilities with little regard for proper sterilisation of tools,” said Dr Azra Riaz. “The fear of being ostracised is more prevalent among women,” she said. “Despite no fault of theirs, they do not want even their spouse to be taken into confidence.”
To a question, she replied that both male and female sex workers are registered for needed assistance. “They, perhaps, represent the most pitiful section with no say over their very own-selves, but there are a few NGOs that have embarked upon the sensitisation of high-risk groups and have managed to motivate them to resort to necessary precautions.”
Senior infection control expert associated with the Dow University of Health Sciences, Dr Mohammad Rafiq Khananai, was of the view that the basic problem is the fact that despite entering a concentrated phase of an epidemic, the authorities are yet to surmount the task of motivating people to protect themselves against the virus.