KARACHI: Contrary to the remarkable progress the world has made against HIV / AIDS, Pakistan has recorded an alarming increase in infection and reported 25,000 new cases of HIV last year. The main reason for the spread of HIV, especially in the general population, is the lack of infection control practices in health facilities and the lack of awareness in society.
The concerns were raised by experts at an event held to mark World AIDS Day on Tuesday at a local hotel.
The program – a consultative meeting with long-term HIV survivors and the launch of a risk communication and community engagement plan on safe injecting practices – was hosted by Bridge Consultants Foundation (BCF), a non-profit organization currently working with the community of Ratodero, Larkana, with support from Unicef.
80% of people infected with HIV in Pakistan are unaware of their condition
Explaining why it is important to have infection control practices, experts said no government could eliminate a communicable disease or contain its risk, including Covid-19, without applying a strong mechanism for prevention and control infections.
Infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities, they said, also included safe injection practices, the use of personal protective equipment in patient care, cleaning and disinfection of rooms as well. proper collection and disposal of medical waste.
âBut, there is no concept of infection control practices, even in the public sector tertiary care hospitals in our country. We have seen hospital toilets without soap and water while it is common to see used syringes being thrown in garbage cans instead of separate boxes, âsaid Dr Sharaf Ali Shah.
Infectious medical waste poses a serious threat to public health, he added.
The main reason for the reported spread / epidemics of HIV in the towns of Gujrat, Sargodha in Punjab and Larkana, Sindh in recent years, experts pointed out, was the unsafe use of the injection.
âUnsafe injecting practices significantly contribute to the burden of viral blood-borne infections. The estimated number of infections per person per year among a sample of 13 low-income countries varies between 1.2 (in Tanzania and India) and 8.5 (in Pakistan) with a median of 1.5 â, BCF’s Waheed Khattak said.
Sustainable HIV program
Earlier, speakers informed the audience that the world had seen a 52% drop in new HIV cases since 1997. In 2020, there were 1.5 million new HIV cases while 1997 saw three million. new cases.
âThese advances are mainly due to the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs and improved HIV testing. In Pakistan, however, cases are increasing among vulnerable groups (sex workers, transgender people and people who inject drugs) as well as the general population, ânoted Dr Rafiq Khanani, president of the Infection Control Society of Pakistan.
The recorded number of people living with HIV in Pakistan, experts said, was around 200,000, half of whom were from vulnerable groups. An estimated 4,900 children aged 1 to 14 were living with HIV.
âThe actual number of HIV cases, however, is much higher. Studies have shown that 80% of people infected with HIV in the country are unaware of their state of health and are not undergoing treatment, which increases the vulnerability of other people in society, âsaid Dr Sharaf Ali Shah, adding that 25,000 new HIV cases were reported in 2020 in Pakistan.
Sharing the challenges, he said the government must resume services provided earlier to people living with HIV, improve testing and take ownership of the HIV program. Currently, all drugs in the program are donated by the Global Fund.
Posted in Dawn, December 1, 2021