HIV: A silent epidemic plaguing thousands in Punjab


LAHORE: There is an inconspicuous spread of the HIV disease which has inflicted thousands of people in Punjab, with about 3,878 cases of AIDS having been reported so far in the province in the last few years. Even though they are several ways in which the virus can be transmitted, including use of infected syringes and receiving blood transfusion from an infected person, it is the tabooing of sex in society – sexual activity being one of the most common forms of contracting HIV – which has led to a gradual increase in the number of patients in the past few decades.

Apart from a lack of proper monitoring, there is a growing trend among the new generation to recklessly pursue sexual activity, as well as consume drugs of various kinds, which has brought an exponential increase in HIV; Pakistan is now considered to be a country transitioning towards a concentrated epidemic among groups that are at most risk. It is this unavoidable curiosity and attraction towards such activities which is contributing to the spread of the disease.

However, what is worsening the problem is that the public is not willing to talk about it openly. For example, there are is a large prostitution racket operating in the country and a lot of the sex workers are untested, unlike for instance prostitutes in countries like Thailand who have certification that they have been tested and are disease-free. Furthermore, some of the youth are uninhibited in their pursuit of sex and are discreetly hiring these untested prostitutes, further exacerbating the HIV problem. About 5-7 per cent sex workers are carrying the virus in the country according to a UN report.

Similarly, the disease is also spreading among drug addicts. In Punjab alone, almost half of the drug addicts have contracted HIV. Overall in Pakistan, 38 per cent suffer from the disease as well.

Dr Imran said that HIV itself wasn’t the issue. It was the new generation which is less conservative and unrestricted in its endeavours.

Authorities say that the problem of the HIV epidemic is not that the disease cannot be controlled or that effective monitoring isn’t in place. It is that people are not willing to be open about their disease. Federal Health Minister Saira Tarar said that a large number of patients refuse to be registered as carrying HIV and want to seek treatment secretly. This creates a problem of spreading awareness when victims of the disease are unwilling to share about their experience and warn others as well.

The federal minister further said that NGOs and government were trying their best to create awareness among the masses regarding the disease.