World AIDS Day celebrates globally to raise HIV awareness

Islamabad, November 29, 2017 (PPI-OT):Every year since 1988, World AIDS Day is celebrated globally to raise HIV awareness and express solidarity with those who have succumbed to HIV and its associated morbidities. In Pakistan an estimated 133,529 (2017) people are living with HIV as compared to less than 110,000 in 2016 and although the epidemic is concentrated in specific groups known as Key Populations but isolated outbreaks in different parts of the country such as in Jallalpur Jata (Gujrat), Larkana and Chiniot as well as evidence from the recent HIV Surveillance round (IBBS-2016) suggest a spill-over into the general population through bridging populations.

The recently concluded surveillance round (IBBS-2016) reported an increase in HIV prevalence in all key populations: People who inject drugs (PWID) from 37.8% to 38.4%, male sex workers (MSW) from 3.1% to 5.2%, female sex workers (FSW) from 0.8% to 2.2% and in transgender sex workers (TG-SW) from 7.2% to 7.5%. The National AIDS Control Programme is spearheading the HIV response in the country with 26 HIV treatment centres and 21 Community Home based Care Sites.

These centres provide free of cost HIV treatment, testing, counselling as well as social support to people living with HIV. In 2016, 8,888 people living with HIV were provided free of cost of ARVs and the number has increased to around 11,080in September, 2017. With a modified community based prevention and testing approach, and adaption of WHO guidelines of “Treatment for All” NACP expects the number to rise. HIV treatment in coming years will be used a treatment and prevention tool that will contribute to a reduction in new infections, HIV associated morbidities and AIDS related deaths.

National Programme Manager of National AIDs Control Programme Dr. Baseer Achakzai said World AIDS Day is a reminder to the policy makers, health professionals and the public that advancements in HIV testing and treatment have enabled people living with HIV to lead healthy lives. The wide gap between people living with HIV and those accessing HIV treatment, preventive and support services call for increased resource mobilization, promotion of HIV literacy and addressing the myths associated with HIV, fighting stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and encouraging PLHIV empowerment.

The Government of Pakistan is committed to ending HIV in the country. Financial resources have been committed by the Federal and Provincial governments to implement a high impact prevention approach, promote HIV education and take steps to promote uptake of HIV testing and treatment services. We all need to join hands for an efficacious, evidence based and innovative approach to develop synergies between all sectors contributing to the health of the population. Efforts need to be made to increase coverage and access to HIV information, prevention, testing and treatment services, stigma and discrimination against HIV to prevent new infections and improve the quality of life of those living with HI.

WHO Representative in Pakistan Dr. Assai Ardakani

We have been advanced in technology and HIV treatment is as easy to access as any other disease, while the commemorating “World AIDS Day reminds us of our commitment to end the HIV epidemic. It is an occasion to look back at our progress, retrieve lessons and move forward towards this goal. Today, we are better equipped than ever for moving forward. We have a wealth of evidence-based interventions and tools that enable us to broaden prevention options, simplify diagnosis, optimize treatment and above all save lives. All we need to do is to put these interventions and tools within the reach of people who need them.”

Dr. Assai said, progress has been witnessed in HIV surveillance, prevention, treatment and care. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of PLHIV receiving antiretroviral treatment increased steadily to more than double. “In spite of progress, however, the epidemic is still progressing. Pakistan features the lowest coverage of HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care services among regional countries. Over, 85 per cent of PLHIV who need life-saving antiretroviral therapy do not receive it,” he flagged. He termed HIV testing as a critical step for accessing HIV treatment and care.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is facing a huge gap in diagnosis as only 3 out of 10 people living with HIV know their HIV status. Same is the case with treatment; just 7 percent of the estimated people living with HIV/AIDS are getting lifesaving ARVs. This low case identification and treatment is due to many reasons including limited availability of HIV testing and treatment services, inappropriate approaches to service delivery for people who are at risk of HIV, reluctance of healthcare providers to offer an HIV test to their clients, and stigma and discrimination. Additionally, testing the partners of people living with HIV has long been neglected or practiced in an unethical manner that deters people from testing.

Dr Mamadou Sakho, UNAIDS

On this World AIDS Day, we would like to give a message of “My Right To Health”. The world has committed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. To reduce new HIV infections, a step need to be taken towards ending the HIV epidemic as a public health threat by 2030, we need to Fast-Track the response, including renewed commitment to, sustained funding for and scaled-up implementation of HIV prevention programmes.

Combination prevention, including comprehensive sexuality education, economic empowerment and access to sexual and reproductive health services for young women and adolescent girls and their male partners in high-prevalence locations is key to prevent new infections among key population and vulnerable groups in Pakistan. Evidence-informed and human rights-based prevention programmes for key populations, including dedicated services and community mobilization and empowerment is key to success when it comes to strengthening HIV response at all levels. This ambitious yet wholly attainable objective represents an unparalleled opportunity to change the course of history forever, something our generation must do for the generations to come.

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