HIV-AIDS and State Terrorism. 8/10/2017

Published by DAILYTIMES

Pakistan has promised to wipe out HIV-AIDS by 2030. It is not alone. 190 nations have made this pledge under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet things are not looking good. Pakistan has been named one of the 10 nations that account for 95 percent of all new HIV infections. It shares this shame with both India and China, one of the world’s largest democracy and the other being a Communist country (or as the Beijing likes to put it, a capitalist economy with Chinese characteristics). All of which is to say that this ought to dispel the long-held myth that the prevalence of HIV-AIDS is linked to cultural norms as well as those of governance. What may or may not be true is that those who are more at risk tend to be sex workers, members of the transgender community, prison inmates, and intravenous drug users. Meaning distinct groups that are usually at the bottom of any government’s priorities, be it East or West, North or South.

So, what is to be done?

Experts say that there is still time to reverse this epidemic that sees 133,529 people living with HIV here in Pakistan; though according to the Health Ministry, in real terms, this represents less than 1 percent of the total population. Yet this is still an increase of nearly 40,000 as compared to figures for last year.

This is where education comes to the fore, namely sex education. But it is hard to envisage this being feasibly implemented at a national level, given the alarming illiteracy rates across the country. For when it comes to any disease, treatment largely depends on if not reading instructions — then at least being able to formulate a non-written method of remembering when to take which drug. It is something that many of us take for granted. And so we should, for it is a fundamental right. But this shouldn’t mean that we stop caring about the majority who have been denied this human right.

This is where the media should take the partial lead, especially broadcast and radio. For while not every household has access to a television or radio — many communities do. Thus the media should run government awareness campaigns in regional languages — much like in the case of the aggressive anti-polio campaign. And at the core of this must be the de-stigmatising of those who suffer from this disease. The victim must never be blamed.

We understand that this does not represent an immediate short-term solution for the 15,370 patients being treated at the 21 treatment centres across the country, as per 2016 figures. But we have to start somewhere. This is not the work of NGOs; nor is it the responsibility of international donors. Any comprehensive approach must be government-led. If it is not — then this is nothing short of state-terrorism against the people of this country. 

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