This Sunday marked World AIDS Day. As people across the globe commemorate this day, Pakistan still suffers from an alarming upsurge of the life-threatening disease. According to a recent UNAIDS report, in 2018 the number of AIDS patients in Pakistan grew to over 160,000.
Of these figures, around 110,000 were men, 48,000 were women and 5,5000 were children under the age of 15. Approximately 6,400 people die from the disease. Over a decade ago, the number of people suffering from HIV in Pakistan was about 4,300 showing that in recent years, the disease has had an explosive rise in the country.
Health researchers have been attempting to warn the population about the AIDS epidemic for years, but due to an ostrich approach and inability to talk about taboo topics, the issue has aggravated over the years. Due to the fact that HIV/AIDS is associated with what is considered socially unacceptable sexual activity, the stigma surrounding the disease persists in our society. HIV was known to be more prevalent among marginalised communities who lack access to treatments such as the transgender community, drug addicts and commercial sex workers. However, recent reports show that may be spilling into the general population as well. The spread of the disease in Larkana for instance, can be traced back to a single doctor reusing infected syringes on patients.
The cases in Larkana are reminiscent of incidences that took place in the small village of Sargodha in January 2018 when blood screening found 669 residents infected with the virus. It was mostly blamed on thriving quackery racket, where unsterilised equipment and infected syringes were used on unsuspecting patients, most of them women and children. In later interviews with HIV/AIDS patients in Sargodha, most were still oblivious as to how the disease spread and what implications it had on their health.
Moreover, another equally alarming case that didn’t garner as much attention as the Larkana one stated that almost 2,800 patients from five various districts registered for free medicine with the Punjab AIDS Control Programme. The majority of these patients were unaware that they were even suffering from the disease until they underwent screenings while donating blood, travelling abroad or ongoing surgery.
In a culture that promotes shame and silence and refuses to implement an effective nationwide HIV/AIDS awareness programme, those suffering from the debilitating disease are unaware of the facts of their illness or how to ask for help until it is too late.
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