It is a known fact how damaging three lethal diseases, namely, AIDs, Hepatitis and drug addiction are for the lives of people and for the new generations.

All of these act as a slow poison in the human body eating up the immune system and finally engulfs the life of the victim/patient. The most detrimental of all is AIDs but unfortunately, like the other two diseases, it is also not being taken seriously in Pakistan. Our federation, instead of working ways and means to control it, is in a frenzy to seek explanations for the genesis of the disease. Moreover, blame games between provinces are underway as to which province has got the highest number of AIDs victims. No matter if Punjab secures highest ranking or Sindh, the problem needs to be countered immediately. The federation, as well as the provinces together, are required to scramble to coordinate an effective response to the epidemic.

This disease is increasing at an alarming pace and we need to stop this growing monster as soon as possible.

AIDs is the most advanced stage of HIV infection and it kills its victims. An HIV-infected person takes 10-15 years to develop AIDS. After developing AIDS it is usually observed that the victim dies in six months. There is no effective vaccine or treatment for AIDS; however, antiretroviral drugs (ART) can slow down the progress.

According to estimates, Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually. It is the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region. There are 0.165 million estimated number of HIV patients in Pakistan (the actual undeclared number is much more). This statistical data does not include the real figures as the Patients of AIDs avoid reporting it due to social problems/ compulsions.

According to my information, the province wise distribution of patients reported till 2018 is that there are 75000 patients of AIDs in Punjab, 60,000 in Sindh, 5000 were reported in Balochistan and 15000 so far in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is unfortunate to state that Punjab has the highest number of patients which is equally alarming both in Punjab and Sindh and other parts of the country.

The most alarming thing is that the list of new cases includes children as young as 16 months which is due to their AIDs infected mothers. The reasons for the rising number of HIV/AIDS in our country include unlicensed medical quackery, and large-scale medical malpractice via the re-use of syringes and unsterilized medical tools, unsafe blood transfusions and use of contaminated blades by the community. Above every other thing, it is sad to note that neither health nor health-related issues are given priority by our government. The seriousness of the present government towards the prevention of this fatal disease can be seen in that no serious funds have been allocated for AIDs control and treatment in Budget 2019-20.

In 1987, a National AIDS Prevention and Control Program (NACP) was initiated by the Federal Health Ministry. Initially, the program was only focused on blood screening and some health promotion and HIV education activities for the general public. Since then, the programme is suffering from a weak strategy as it does not address treatment services properly due to lack of funding and dull response to the health sector.

In other parts of the world, the number of HIV patients is declining by the use of advanced technology followed by their prime focus towards health but Pakistan till now remains the one with no focus upon health sector. Recently, Dr Bashir Ahmed Achakzai MD NACP National Programme Manager made an honest confession regarding the organisation that they do not have enough funds or resources at federal and provincial level to curb the disease.

Although 27 HIV/AIDS treatment centres and 22 community home-based testing centres had been established in all four provinces, no resources have ever been allocated for other activities of HIV prevention as the only drug ARV that prevents AIDs is not available in Pakistan. The country is totally relying on HIV test kits which cost over Rupees one lac and the hospitals do not have any suffice budget to buy or import these kits.

In 2017, the government had announced free HIV testing system that was only available in three cities of Pakistan. In order to fill this gap, the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) took this step to avail the Aga Khan University Hospital’s (AKUH) 200 plus a nationwide network of collection units to collect blood samples from areas that are far. NACP had decided to pay Rs. 1500 to Agha Khan Hospital per patient from the funds allocated to it by Global Funds against Aids, Malaria and TB while the private laboratories charge Rs. 15000-17000 for the same test.

As per my personal enquiry, the above-mentioned plan remains only on paper as no such facility is now being provided to common people. According to a reliable Senior Official source, the real position reported to the State is that the total estimated HIV positives in Pakistan in 2018 were over 170,000 among which 24,331 cases have been registered in 35 centres only. Moreover, out of all these registered patients, only 17,149 are actually getting treatment.

The diagnosis of this ever-spreading disease requires community-based testing and the government should encourage the testing of this disease free of cost. According to the Health Ministry, there is an immediate requirement of funds as the estimated amount in the national strategic plan for 5 Years is $266 million. The global aid fund is providing $35 whereas the government has provided $35 through domestic resources. There is a gap of $201million which are urgently required only to treat the reported patients.

According to a report, some organised criminals are running their business from big cities and the young sex workers are taken to the Middle East on visit visas. They contract aid form these countries and so are responsible for spreading the disease. The country is going through another social issue as the Transgender community is jobless and they are also being used as sex workers.

While making this matter as a case study, I decide not only to write but also probe into misappropriation of funds release at the federal level for this very programme. While continuing this probe, I am presenting the following suggestions to be paid attention to:

1.   Legislation should be done in order to

discipline the use of medical instruments to ensure hygiene among the patients.

2.   There must be a complete ban over the

reuse of syringes.

3.   Use of auto-disable syringes must be

introduced.

4.   All hospitals need to reserve at least 50 beds and an isolation ward for AIDs patients along with the provision of extra budget.

5.   An effective media campaign both at public and private media should be started with immediate effect.

6.   The government should strengthen NACP not only through enough funding but it should also be made responsible enough to ensure the provision of an increased number of beds in the treatment centres and should also become the regulator of all matters related to AIDs treatment and control programme.

7.   All drug addicts must be passed through AID tests and all the addicts diagnosed with AIDs must be sent to AIDs treatment centres.

8.   There should be a compulsory drug addiction test for students studying at High School, Colleges and Universities as it will not only help in curbing addictions but also help in detection of AIDs too among the frog addicts.

9.   All the provincial governments and the Federal government should launch an SOS programme to curb all the factors contributing to this widespread disease.

Although I am very glad to have penned down such a vital national issue to increase awareness among the people but I’m equally disappointed to see how only the Sindh Government was blamed for the increase in the number of patients whereas the above figures clearly show that Punjab has the highest number of AID patients in the province. One should avoid playing politics on HIV issue as it is a purely human issue and we have to curb it with collective efforts and wisdom. It is not a matter of blame game but facts remain that the federation is consistently failing to assist the provincial governments in controlling the fatal disease.