Wednesday, December 03, 2003

PAKISTAN: New HIV/AIDS cases in Sindh

ISLAMABAD, 3 Dec 2003 (IRIN) - Seven new HIV-positive cases have been diagnosed in the southern province of Sindh, bringing the total of identified cases to 31 since September, according to an official. "Almost all the cases are intravenous drug users, with only a few attributed to sexual contact," Dr Qamar Abbas of the Sindh AIDS Control Programme (SACP) official, told IRIN from Karachi on Wednesday.

The SACP scrambled to screen other jails in the province after seven HIV cases had been diagnosed in a jail in the town of Larkana in late August, and subsequently found three more in Karachi, and then another four in Hyderabad and Sukkur, Abbas said. "HIV-positive cases in intravenous drug users appears to be a new trend. Previously, all the cases we found were due to sexual contact," he added.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 people, or 0.1 percent of the adult population in Pakistan, are HIV-positive, according to a World Bank report released on World Aids Day. Social taboos deterred patients from reporting their illness with the result that many cases went unreported, the report said, adding that although the prevalence of HIV in Pakistan was still low, the country was highly vulnerable to an escalating epidemic due to a number of significant risk factors.

Dr Mohammed Imran, a National AIDS Control Programme official, told IRIN in November that the number of reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan had risen to 2,080 in 2003. "As far as the projections are concerned for unreported cases, we estimate that there are more than 80,000 such cases in Pakistan at present," he added.

A new report published by the World Health Organisation said that, in contrast to the relative success of measures targeted at limiting HIV transmission via commercial sex, HIV infection among injecting drug users was rising, with "explosive spreads" seen in most Asian countries, including Pakistan.

However, the SACP's surveillance programme had, for its part, successfully identified the affected convicts, as it had with other segments of the population, Dr Sharaf Ali Shah, who heads the SACP, told IRIN from Karachi. "Following the outbreak in Larkana, we tested more than 5,000 jail inmates across several cities in Sindh, and we were able to diagnose the new cases in Karachi, Sukkur and Hyderabad. Of these, four are due to intravenous drug use and the remaining three were non-drug users," he said.

Pakistan launched a new programme in October to combat the spread HIV/AIDS. The Enhanced HIV/AIDS Control Programme is budgeted at US $47 million with the primary assistance of the World Bank and is supported by the British government's Department for International Development and the Canadian International Development Agency.


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