World AIDS Day on December 1 is an annual event marked by countries around the world to advocate for more concerted action to prevent HIV and provide those who are living with HIV the lifesaving treatment they need in a manner that respects both human rights and their dignity. In observing the Day, we take stock of our global commitments to reach the Sustainable Development Goal targets to end the AIDS epidemic as a major public health problem by 2030 and achieve universal health coverage. The Day therefore represents an opportunity to examine country progress and scale up actions needed to meet the global targets. Despite the commendable work being undertaken to fight the epidemic, we are still facing obstacles and challenges in providing access to lifesaving treatment and services. HIV is taking shape of epidemic in Pakistan. Well over 150,000 people are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive in Pakistan and the number is increasing by an estimated 20,000 people every year though it is believed that the number may be much higher because due to stigma attached to the disease, a majority of people do not reveal their infection. Surprisingly, only 25,220 patients are registered with National AIDS control program that is providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to as many as 15,390 patients, 58 per cent of the total patients registered with it while the remaining 42 per cent are on pre-ART. At least 132,000 people in Pakistan have been diagnosed with AIDS. The report was submitted by the Attorney General Office in the Supreme Court recently. The report states that 60,000 people in Punjab have AIDS, 52,000 in Sindh, and 17,000 each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad. Gender inequality, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation of women and girls are fueling the epidemic while lack of political will, bureaucratic challenges, and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, institutional deficiencies and socioeconomic complexities not only prevent early diagnosis and treatment but also leave poor sufferers with fewer healthcare options. Pakistan is facing concentrated epidemic among injecting drug users (IDUs) (40 per cent), female sex workers and transgender sex workers. An estimated 40 per cent of Pakistan’s prison population uses drugs and have a high prevalence of HIV. There are serious risk factors such as having unprotected sex, low literacy rate especially among women, significant power imbalances in men and women, negative peer pressure, economic frustration in Pakistan, widespread poverty, lack of any system to check the HIV positive reported persons, indiscriminate transfusion of unscreened blood, use of unsterilized medical instruments, re-use of used syringes and needles, sharing contaminated needles and syringes, quackery, community dental clinics, rising number of drug addicts, etc. that help expand HIV epidemic. The time for action is now.
An estimated 40 per cent of Pakistan’s prison population uses drugs and have a high prevalence of HIV.