700,000 new HIV cases in 2002
LAHORE: There were 700,000 new cases of HIV reported in the South East Asia region during 2002, and unless there is a change in official and social attitude towards the disease the number infected by the virus are likely to grow, according to the speakers at a sensitisation to HIV/AIDS seminar for district nazims held here on Monday.
The event was organised by the Punjab AIDS Control Programme, in collaboration with UNAIDS and UNDP, to improve awareness of and reduce risk to the disease through political commitment at the district level. Dr Tahir Ali Javed, the Punjab minister for Health, chaired the seminar.
Dr Ali Raza, the programme manager of Punjab AIDS Control, said South East Asia was the area worst hit by the disease after the Sub-Saharan Desert region in Africa.
He detailed the scale of the disease in Pakistan. “Pakistan is a low prevalence, high risk country where the total numbers of cases reported between1986-2000 range from 70,000 to 80,000. Long route truckers, commercial sex workers, a large drug population, a high prevalence of Hepatitis B and C, unsafe blood transfusions and unchecked use of syringes and blades are the principle contributing factors to the spread of the disease.”
Dr Raza said 63 percent of Pakistan’s population was below the age of 25, the age-group most vulnerable to the disease. “In the federal centre, there are a total of 359 full-grown cases, in the Punjab there are 432, in Sindh the count is 567, in the NWFP there are 400, in Balochistan 192, and in Azad Kashmir a total of 22 cases,” he said. Of these, 80 percent were Pakistanis who were deported from Gulf countries on health grounds.
To reduce these figures, Dr Raza said a change in attitude was essential, followed by support from the police and prison authorities, academic institutions, the non-government sector and international donor agencies like the World Bank, which is to support an AIDS control programme focusing on sex workers.
“We have to start openly discussing the epidemic since we are witnessing the tip of an iceberg,” the Health minister said. He said many HIV/AIDS cases go unreported in Pakistan, largely because of social reasons. He said if something was not done, Pakistan only needed to look across the border to see the extent of the suffering caused by the disease in India, which has the second highest AIDS count in the world. “In our little area of South Asia, we have 7.2m AIDS cases,” he said.
He added that Hepatitis, quackery, non-sterilized dentistry tools, non-disposable syringes and barber blades were leading causes of the disease. “There was not a single case of Hepatitis reported from 1982 to1988, but now the most common disease in the emergency ward is Hepatitis C.” Currently, he pointed out, 20 percent of the country’s population was Hepatitis infected. “At this rate, in 10 years, 10m people will be infected with terminal liver disease, which is expensive and untreatable, and the government with all its resources will be unable to cope.” He added that a co-coordinated effort was needed at the federal and provincial level to eradicate the disease. —Staff Report