Pakistan: Free Antiretroviral Drugs Are Just First Step
January 11, 2006
Pakistan has had a low HIV prevalence but now faces an impending epidemic, said Dr. Quaid Saeed, a WHO program officer. High-risk populations like injection drug users and male sex workers need special attention, he said. Factors aiding the spread of HIV include stigma, inadequate surveillance, low AIDS awareness, and too few voluntary testing centers.
Stigma is pervasive, said Nigat Kamdar, who runs a nongovernmental organization in Peshawar. She recounted cases in which HIV-positive pregnant women have been refused admission to labor wards and forced to deliver their newborns in hospital hallways.
WHO is helping run Pakistan's National AIDS Control Program (NACP). "We have established four treatment centers in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi where medicines for 30 patients have been sent to each center. Doctors and nurses have already been trained in India," Saeed said.
NACP estimates there could be 36,000 HIV-positive persons in Pakistan. "Assuming that 20 percent of these patients will be eligible for starting ART [antiretroviral therapy] over the next three years, we may be looking at care for about 7,200 patients," Saeed said, a number that would overwhelm the nation's health care system.
"Therefore we are at present focusing on development and scaling up of staff capacity and health infrastructure, such as diagnostic facilities, treatment support and home-based services before scaling up ART. We anticipate that once the treatment and care centers are fully operational, additional demand for ART will be generated through increased voluntary counseling and treatment, mobilization of people living with HIV/AIDS and better access to care," Saeed said.
Yasin Malik, who runs the ART center in Peshawar, said Pakistan is well-positioned to concurrently increase both access to ART and prevention efforts.
Inter Press Service
01.02.06; Ashfaq Yusufzai