Thursday, 02 December 2010

Despite UN Funding, AIDS in Pakistan Is Spreading Unabated

Written by  Malik Ayub Sumbal

World AIDS Day 2010 passed here in Islamabad, Pakistan, without any particular notable activity or pledge to renew the fight against AIDS. There was only a minor activity organized by the National Aids Control Program chaired by the Minister for Health in a local hotel.

Not even a single function was organized in the country by any nongovernmental organization (NGO) that is working on controlling AIDS in Pakistan, and there are scores of NGOs in Pakistan that are working on the various issues and causes regarding AIDS. Considering that the groups are nationally and internationally funded, it is really pathetic that on this AIDS day no activity took place. And no progress against AIDS has been seen from any NGO.

According to the official figures compiled by the National Aids Control Program, there have been 97,400 HIV cases reported so far in Pakistan, and these cases are primarily owing to the usage of the non-disposable syringes and transmittance by sex workers. In Pakistan the number of AIDS patients is likely always underreported in official figures.

Prostitution is the major factor in the increasing rate of AIDS in Pakistan, and the number of sex workers is increasing day by day owing to poverty. There are hundreds of brothels in Pakistan, and they are in most every city and town. There are girls for the sake of the sexual needs for each community and social class. The female sex workers are propagating the AIDS virus among the communities.

The New American talked to a number of sex workers regarding precautionary measures during sex. A sex worker named Hira Butt said: “They [sex workers] don’t care about any kind of precautionary measures during sex, but if the partner is willing to use the condom then there is no objection; otherwise, they do not usually adopt such kinds of measures during sex.”

She said that for her it is not necessary to use a condom; she indulged in any kind of sex. Hira said that she has been a prostitute for the last 10 years, and she doesn’t think she has gotten any type of sexual disease, such as AIDS.

Another prostitute named Khusboo spoke about World AIDS Day. She said: “I have no knowledge about the importance of this day.” She said that if the government and the NGOs want to control AIDS in Pakistan, then they must feed Pakistanis because to feed their children and families they have no other option but to sell their flesh.

There are also teenage boys who are involved in the sex business at the various brothels and on the roads in the red-light areas of the various cities of Pakistan.

Truck drivers in Pakistan are also a major source of spreading the HIV virus, as they use the teenage boys for sex while traveling through the country, especially to the far-flung areas. Eunuchs are also spreading AIDS in the Pakistani community. They are being used for the sexual needs of males; they perform anal sex with them. Those males who cannot afford to hire girls for sex due to the lack of money usually pick these eunuchs from the various locations in Pakistan.

As the problem multiplies, there are only 14 HIV treatment centers in Pakistan for a population of more than 180 million. Most efforts to stem the spread of the disease have not accomplished much.

The National Aids Control Program was established in 1986-87 with a focus on the diagnosis of AIDS cases that came to hospitals. Its objectives are the prevention of HIV transmission, safe blood transfusions, establishment of surveillance, training of health staff, research and behavioral studies, and development of program management.

Subsequently, in 1994, the program was brought under the multi-donor-financed Social Action Program with a more pragmatic agenda, including information education, blood screening, and establishing provincial implementation units. The program is now implemented through federal and provincial implementation units. In 1999-2000, the government of Pakistan, with the assistance of UNAIDS and other development partners, undertook a strategic planning exercise with input from all stakeholders.

Yet on the ground the output of the National Aids Control Program is negligible, even though it is being funded by foreign donors including UNAIDS, WHO, UNICEF, The Global Fund, and DFID (Department for International Development), and there can be little doubt that the donors hold sway over the plans that are implemented. In fact, in Pakistan there is still a lack of awareness among the masses regarding AIDS, and the sex workers fail to adopt the precautionary measures during sex.

When this correspondent contacted the national program manager of the National Aids Control Program in Pakistan, Dr. Sajid Ahmad, he was not available for any comments.

There is a need for a lot of effort toward generating awareness among the masses about AIDS, and to lessen the prevalence of prostitution as a way to make money.

Photo: AP Images

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