ISLAMABAD - A national study on "Treatment and Rights for Drug Users (DUs) in Pakistan" launched here on Thursday recommended to develop and implement a national policy and action plan to ensure equity in Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) access for drug users.
The Association of People Living with HIV (APLHIV), in Pakistan, conducted the study. The project was aimed at assessing the obstacles faced by DUs in accessing treatment and to document the violations of fundamental human and legal rights. It stressed on initiating and rapidly scaling up Oral Substitution Therapy (OST) programme in order to assist DUs in starting and adhering to ART Treatment.
Asghar Ilyas Satti, National Coordinator, APLHIV, told that a total 542 male and female respondents (DUs), on the basis of in-country epidemiological reports, from 11 districts of the country, were recruited for the study.
Majority of them, 84.4 per cent, were males and 47.2 per cent out of total reported 'wages' as their mean for the financial support in the last six months followed by 17.43 as begging, 7.16 as employed, 7.52 with family support and 17.25 as sex work, selling drugs and theft among the rest.
Study revealed that among the participants not a single transgender was associated with any NGO or network, and 20.4 male and 2.4 per cent female DUs were living in the streets for the past six months.
A bulk, 44.77 per cent, of them started using drugs between 16 to 20 years of age with 26.1 never using any contraceptive measures and 45.3 per cent never tested for HIV. An overwhelming majority of 85.1 percent DUs were not provided with detoxification services at the service delivery points. Prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) among the sample stood at 13.6 per cent.
On the basis of findings the study recommended to implement stigma reduction measures in the health care settings and sensitize health care providers on the health and human rights issues of Injecting Drug-Users (IDUs) and people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It also emphasized on addressing stigma and discrimination faced by DUs by implementing anti-discriminatory policies.
On stigma and discrimination front, the findings were worst. The study exposed that only 55.6 per cent participants were aware of their rights as human beings. A total 49.9 lived without shelter, 33.2 forced to leave job and 32.7 per cent forced to change their residence.
About 82 per cent DUs were verbally insulted, 66.8 publicly humiliated and 61.3 even physically abused. A majority 64.2 per cent was denied access to community festivals with 48.3 arbitrarily arrested and only 6.8 per cent facilitated in legal support. The study suggested reforming laws that authorize police surveillance and pretrial detention of DUs.
The literacy rates of male and female respondents stood at 36.3 and 8.6 per cent as illiterate respectively with only 0.9 per cent with higher level of education.
The figures advocated mass awareness campaign on Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)/TB Co-infection among DUs, ensuring integrated diagnostics and availability of treatment facilities at ART centers. Prevention of the negative social consequences of drug use, critical for both DUs and society at large, through advocacy, at various levels were also underlined.
The study further suggested to sensitising and training health-care professionals on an on-going basis on how to prevent, recognize and manage the non-medical use of prescription drugs and related consequences.
Ensuring community involvement at all levels of decision making to guarantee effective use of their experience and expertise in monitoring and reviewing the scale-up of preventive programs and other treatment services were held as crucial to address the issue.