Pakistan: Drug Addicts Struggle to Obtain Anti-HIV Medicine
August 24, 2007
Former drug users in Sindh are being denied AIDS treatment at government health centers, making harm-reduction more difficult, according to an expert who works with IV drug users (IDUs) at Pakistan Society. The society, a European Commission-funded project, runs two rehabilitation centers and has over 5,000 clients.
Excluding drug users from AIDS treatment "is really dangerous as this population is fueling the epidemic," said the society's Dr. Saleem Azam. In Sindh, 30 percent of IDUs are HIV-positive. Sindh had more than 35,000 IDUs in 2000, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Of the 175 HIV-positive patients registered at Sindh's Center of Excellence at Service Hospital, 60 are on antiretroviral therapy. One former IDU, Pakistan Society employee Mohammad Sohail, has a CD4 count of 152 and has run a temperature for much of the month, during which he lost five kilograms. For four months, he regularly visited the hospital, waiting hours for ARVs - unsuccessfully. Doctors at the center, without performing any tests on Sohail, "tell me I look quite fit and don't need" ARVs, he said.
Azam says such treatment is common. He said he had to bribe Civil Hospital officials to perform what should have been free surgery on one IDU patient, and an ill IDU client at Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center was not treated with ARVs but discharged and later died.
"The Sindh AIDS Control Program told me I don't need to get the CD4 test done," said Farid Ahmed Memon, vice president of the National Association of People Living with AIDS. "Imagine if it's happening with me, and I know most doctors there, what the others must be going through."
Director Dr. Azra Ghias denied his center discriminates against former drug users.
Inter Press Service
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.