Health alert

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IT should be a matter of concern for the government as well as the citizens that 519 people have tested positive for HIV in Islamabad during the last 10 months — between January and October his year.

According to the official sources, the majority of the number comprises young men between the age group of 18 to 25 being categorized as men having sex with men (MSM) in addition to transgenders.

The spread of the disease in 1981 sent alarm bells throughout the world and Pakistan took the right step to establish a National AIDS Control Programme in 1986-87 with focus on diagnosis and community awareness.

Despite many efforts, the HIV infection rate has increased significantly over the past few years and, in fact, the country has moved from a low prevalence to concentrated epidemic with HIV prevalence of more than 5% among injecting drug users (IDUs) in at least eight major cities.

The rapid spread of the disease in the twin cities and particularly in the Federal Capital, where diagnostic and treatment facilities are available, is a reminder that we are not doing enough at least at the societal level to combat the fatal disease.

The low prevalence of the AIDS in Pakistan was rooted in adherence to the religious code and norms but an alarming increase in the number of victims is an indication of weakening ideological foundations.

The number we know is based on self-testing while the actual number might be much higher and, therefore, there is need for launching of a massive awareness campaign to highlight, among other things, the dangers involved in extra-marital sex, drug addiction and safe blood transfusion.

Families, educational institutions, religious seminaries and mosques should also play their role in combating the disease through character building and vigilance.