Pakistan not prepared to control spread of HIV

December 02, 2012 - 2:05:56 am

ISLAMABAD: As World Aids Day wass being observed yesterday, World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern that Pakistan has high rates of unscreened blood transfusions and a very high demand for therapeutic injections and poor infection control practices in hospitals and clinics nationwide.

“This has led to transmission of infection through unscreened blood transfusions, or re-use of syringes or use of un-sterilised medical equipment,” the World Health Organisation said in a statement on World Aids Day.

This year’s theme is: ‘Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections, Zero deaths from Aids-related illness, Zero discrimination.’

This sounds difficult but is achievable keeping in view the fact that antiretroviral medicines used for the treatment of HIV and Aids reduce the amount of virus in the blood which increases the chance they will stay healthy and decreases the risk they can pass the virus to someone else.

In Pakistan, HIV epidemic is in its second stage (concentrated epidemic) meaning that the prevalence in traditional risk groups has exceeded five per cent. Within the country two groups have surpassed this threshold: injecting drug users (27 percent) and transgender (6 percent) sex workers.

Of the estimated 150,000 injecting drug users nationwide, according to national surveillance data, rates of infection range from 15 percent to 50 percent in most major cities of Pakistan including Sarghoda, Faisalabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, Larkana, Hyderabad, Mandi Bahauddin and Lahore.

In addition, there has been ‘mini-outbreaks of HIV epidemics’ in rural communities like Jalal Pur Jattan, district Gujrat as a results of alarming overlap between injecting drug use, unsafe hospital infection control practices/therapeutic injections and commercial sex.

According to latest figures, the number of HIV positives in 2009 is around 98,000 cases in Pakistan with an overall general population prevalence of 0.05 percent while 5,800 died due to Aids.

Since 1987, when first case was reported in Lahore, the spread has been progressive from low prevalence to a more concentrated epidemic in the high risk groups.

According to WHO, there are 17 HIV surveillance centres functioning all over the country providing free anti-retroviral medicines and diagnostics free of cost and in some centres the analysis of the data shows more than 95 percent success rate.

This is a significant achievement which is now mainly supported by Global Fund.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Global Aids Response Progress Report 2012 confirms that HIV prevalence among continues to rise in 19 cities of the country.

Official sources said that a new Aids strategy was being evolved by the government. Due to devolution, each province was developing its own provincial aids strategy tailored to their specific context.

The main goal of 2012-16 strategy will have three main goals: to increase the quality of coverage of HIV prevention services; diagnostic, treatment, care and support service; and to improve response management at national, provincial and local levels.

According to the national report, the decentralisation of the health ministry from the national to the provincial levels necessitates advocacy for sustained domestic resources at provincial and district levels.