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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)

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WHO Demands Strict Regulations on Vaping Products

WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth

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The World Health Organization also known as WHO says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction. Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organization also called WHO is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products.

Health officials are increasingly worried about the risks posed by e-cigarettes as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread from the United States to Europe and beyond. They see the recent death of a young man in Belgium and reports of vaping-related illnesses in the Philippines and other countries in the world as a call to action.

The World Health Organization says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction.  WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA these industry health claims are unproven.

“While these electronic nicotine delivery systems may be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, this does not make them harmless,” he said.  “They produce aerosols from the vapor that contain toxicants that can result in a range of significant pathological changes.  These ends pose health risks for nonsmokers, to minors, to pregnant women — all of those who should not use such systems.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed at least 42 deaths in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 2,100 illnesses related to vaping products.

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The World Health Organization also called WHO is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products. Pixabay

Vaping is an extremely profitable growth industry.  The number of people using vaping devices has increased from 7 million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018.  Profits have nearly tripled, from $6.9 billion five years ago to more than $19 billion today.  Getting the tobacco industry to refrain from the sale of electronic smoking devices will be extremely difficult.

The World Health Organization says long-term studies of health implications of electronic nicotine devices should begin.  In the meantime, the U.N. health agency is issuing recommendations that in some ways mirror those enacted to control tobacco use.

ALSO READ: Smart Bulbs Can Steal Personal Information Through Hacking

WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth; measures should be taken to minimize the potential risks to users and others from these devices, and the tobacco industry should be prohibited from using unproven health claims to market vaping products.  (VOA)