Islamabad - Above 130,000 people in the country are HIV positive while more than 80 per cent of them are not receiving proper life-saving healthcare, officials said on Wednesday.

The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination in collaboration with World Health Organisation (WHO) detailed current status of AIDs Control Programme in a media briefing in connection with the World AIDS Day.

Manager National AIDS Control Programme Dr Baseer Achakzai said that according to an estimate, a total of 133,592 people were living with the disease and the epidemic was concentrated in specific groups of population.

These specific groups known as key population areas include people who inject drugs, male sex workers, female sex workers and transgender sex workers, he added. However, he said, along with concentration on key population, the epidemic had also been reported in general population in the areas of Jalalpur Jattan in Gujrat, Larkana and Chiniot.

“HIV surveillance round suggest a spill-over into general population through bridging populations,” he said. The recently-concluded surveillance round reported an increase in HIV prevalence in all key populations, revealing that the epidemic surged to 38.4 per cent from 37.8 per cent in people who inject drugs, from 3.1 per cent to 5.2 per cent in male sex workers, from 0.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent in female sex workers and from 7.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent in transgender sex workers.  The NACP is running 26 HIV treatment centres and 21 community-based care sites, providing free of cost treatment, testing, counselling as well as social support to people living with HIV, he said. “In 2016, as many as 8,888 HIV patients were provided free of cost ARVs and the number increased to around 11,080 in September 2017,” he said.

The wide gap between people living with the HIV and those accessing the HIV treatment call for increased resource mobilisation and promotion of HIV literacy in the country, he added.

WHO Representative Dr Assai Ardakani said that Pakistan was featuring the lowest coverage of HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care services among regional countries. “Over 85 per cent of the patients who need life-saving antiretroviral therapy do not receive it,” he said. He termed HIV testing as a critical step for accessing HIV treatment and care.  Dr Assai further said that Pakistan was facing a huge gap in HIV diagnosis as only three out of ten people living with HIV knew their HIV status and similar was the case with treatment, as only seven per cent of the estimated people living with HIV/AIDS were getting lifesaving ARVs.

“This low case identification and treatment is due to limited availability of HIV testing and treatment services, inappropriate approaches to service delivery of HIV and others,” he said. Dr Assai said that progress had been witnessed in HIV surveillance, prevention, treatment and care between 2012 and 2016, as the number of HIV patients receiving antiretroviral treatment increased steadily to more than double.

“In spite of progress, however, the epidemic is still progressing,” he said.

Country Director UNAIDS Dr Mamadou Sakho said that in Pakistan, comprehensive sex education, economic empowerment and access to sexual and reproductive health services for young women and adolescent girls was key to prevent the infection in vulnerable groups.

Fast-track response, including renewed commitment to sustained funding for and scaled-up implementation of HIV prevention programmes is needed to reduce new HIV infections, he said.