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HIV Epidemic Spreading Rapidly In Pakistan: WHO

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to "de-stigmatize HIV testing.

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The World Health Organization warns Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region. VOA

Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region, warns the World Health Organization (WHO).

The international body says mortality among Pakistanis living with the virus, which causes the deadly AIDS disease, is also rising, in spite of the availability of lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

The latest government figures show that only 16 percent of the estimated 150,000 people living with HIV had been tested and only 9 percent have access to lifesaving treatment.

“The remaining 135,000 people are walking around in the communities as carriers of (HIV) infection who are ready to transmit infections to those who are not infected, even to their unborn babies,” Dr. Saima Paracha of the National AIDS Control Program, told VOA.

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Participants hold placards in the shape of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV, as a hot air balloon is released during an awareness campaign ahead of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India. VOA

Officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among the key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients and men who have sex with men.

“The drivers of infection are now the sexual networks and they are ready to spill the infection into the general public,” Dr. Paracha cautioned.

Paracha says the Pakistani government offers free HIV testing and treatment, but she notes the marginalized key populations continue face widespread stigma and discrimination in the society.

The fear of maltreatment, and punitive actions by law enforcers impacts the willingness of these populations to pursue testing, which remains a major challenge facing national efforts to treat and prevent the spread of HIV, she lamented.

Official estimates show that Pakistan has seen a 45 percent increase in new HIV infections since 2010.

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A patient is seen in a ward at the state-run Lavra clinic, Ukraine’s main HIV treatment center, in Kyiv. VOA

“The number of new HIV infections will continue to increase dramatically if implementation rates of intervention remain at current levels,” said Dr. Nima Saeed Abid, country head of WHO.

An official statement issued in connection with World AIDS Day quoted him as saying that Pakistan has the lowest rate of all regional countries in diagnosing people who are infected and linking them to care and treatment.

Naila Bashir, who heads the HIV treatment center at Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), told VOA the facility receives up to 40 new HIV patients every month, underscoring the alarming increase in the number of infections.

The center was established in 2005 and the number of patients has since increased from 22 to more than 3,000, including men, women and children of all ages, said Dr. Bashir.

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Nearly a million people still die every year from AIDS. VOA

HIV has never been a priority program in the national health system and the recent abolition of the federal health ministry and the devolution of its functions to the provinces, which lacked preparedness and capacity, have led to the increase in infections, say WHO experts in the country. However, they acknowledge the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving priority to tackling health emergencies in Pakistan, including HIV.

Federal Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, Aamir Mehmood Kiyani, says the government is working on a strategy to remove barriers and challenges in protecting people from HIV infections.

Also Read: Eastern Europe Sees A Rise In Number of HIV Cases

Kiyani told a seminar in Islamabad that since taking office three months ago, the government has moved to established 12 new HIV treatment centers while overall 33 such facilities have been working throughout Pakistan.

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to “de-stigmatize HIV testing, advocate for confidential, non-discriminatory, community based care models and raise awareness about disease transmission, prevention treatment” to achieve reductions in new infections in affected populations. (VOA)

Next Story

WHO: Millions of People with Epilepsy Reluctant to Seek Treatment Because of Stigma

Nearly 50 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy

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Nearly 50 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy. The World Health Organization reports this neurological disease affects people of all ages in all walks of life. VOA

The World Health Organization says millions of people with epilepsy are reluctant to seek treatment because of the stigma attached to their ailment, leading to the premature death of many.  WHO has released the first global report on epilepsy.

Nearly 50 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy.  The World Health Organization reports this neurological disease affects people of all ages in all walks of life.  It says this brain disease can cause seizures and sometimes loss of awareness.

Program Manager in WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Tarun Dua says people with epilepsy suffer widespread stigma and discrimination as a consequence of their unusual behavior.

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Low doses of topiramate may also increase the risk of oral clefts but to a lesser extent. Wikimedia Commons

“So, in many settings, people with epilepsy they are embarrassed…children are not allowed to go to school, adults are not allowed to work, sometimes not even marry or the right to drive is also not there,” said Dua. “So, these stigma and human rights violations and sometimes also the death that is associated with epilepsy—so premature mortality in epilepsy is three times that of the general population.”

Causes of epilepsy include injury around the time of birth, brain infections from illnesses such meningitis or encephalitis and stroke.  WHO estimates 25 percent of cases are preventable.

Dua says early death among people with epilepsy in low and middle-income countries is significantly higher than in wealthy countries.  She says the stigma associated with epilepsy is a main factor preventing people from seeking treatment.

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The World Health Organization reports this neurological disease affects people of all ages in all walks of life. Wikimedia Commons

She says low cost, effective medication to treat the disease is largely unavailable in poor countries as are the number of specialists competent to deal with this brain disorder.

ALSO READ: Researchers Identify Gene Associated with Sudden Death in Epilepsy

“For example, if you look in low and middle-income countries, there is only one neurologist per one million population,” Dua said. “Now, that is definitely insufficient to provide care for all people with epilepsy.  What it means is that we need the non-specialists, the primary care doctors to take care for people with epilepsy.”

Dua says WHO has the tools and evidence-based guidelines that show epilepsy can be successfully treated in primary health care.  She says pilot programs introduced in Ghana, Mozambique, Myanmar, and Vietnam are making huge inroads in closing the epilepsy treatment gap. (VOA)