Thursday, November 24, 2022

Over 500 people test positive for HIV in Islamabad in last 10 months

Shocking number of 519 people tested positive for HIV in Islamabad between Jan 1-Oct 31

A Reuters representational image.
A Reuters representational image. 

  • Shocking number of 519 people tested positive for HIV in capital.
  • Majority of people who tested positive include young men.
  • Highest number of new HIV infections reported in June this year.

ISLAMABAD: A shocking number of 519 people have tested positive for HIV in Islamabad during the last 10 months — between January 1 to October 31 — officials said on Wednesday.

An official at the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSR&C) told The News that the majority of the number comprises young men between the age group of 18 to 25 years of age being categorised as men having sex with men (MSM) in addition to transgenders.

The federal health ministry official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, claimed that of the 519 new HIV patients, around 40%-45% people are "young men in the age group of 18-25 years", who were also involved in "unsafe sexual practices".

According to the data, 38 new people tested positive for HIV at PIMS Islamabad in January, 61 in February, 40 in March, 34 in April, and 45 in May, while the highest number of new HIV infections (74) were reported in June this year.

In July, 53 new HIV patients were registered with the PIMS treatment centre, 61 tested positive in August, 64 in September, and 49 new people have been tested positive for HIV in October.

“Keeping in view the growing burden of HIV cases in the capital, we have established another treatment centre for HIV patients at Polyclinic Hospital, Islamabad which is functional for the last few weeks but it has yet to be inaugurated formally”, the NHS official maintained.

Dr Nailana Bashir, Incharge of the HIV treatment centre at PIMS Islamabad, which has been declared a "special clinic", said over 4,500 people living with HIV are registered with them and their number is growing with each passing day.

"Every day two to three new people are being tested positive for HIV at our diagnostic lab at PIMS Islamabad. Ironically, most of them who are being tested positive for the last couple of years are young, educated men who practice same sex. Most of them know their practice so they search about risks involved with their sexual behaviour and get themselves tested for HIV," Dr Naila added.

She said the rise in the number of young, educated men of well-to-do families in Islamabad was observed during COVID-19 peak days and for the last couple of years, most of the people tested for HIV at PIMS Islamabad lab are young boys, both from the affluent class as well as young labourers who are living at their workplaces in the suburbs of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

When asked why HIV was spreading so rapidly among the young men or boys in and around the capital, she said public health experts and officials should respond to this query.

“When this centre was established in 2005, mostly people deported from Gulf countries used to come here. Later, injectable drug users’ number increased but now the number of young men and transgender infected with HIV is increasing with each passing day”, she said and disclosed that not a single female sex worker was registered with the HIV treatment centre at PIMS Islamabad.

She maintained that young men and boys who tested positive for HIV need psychological help because as soon as they learn about their HIV status, many of them have suicidal thoughts and some of them even try to commit suicide.

“But I give them a clear message. HIV is now a treatable disease. An HIV patient can live a normal life if he or she takes medicine on daily basis, get his or basic tests done and seek medical treatment, which is free of charge at government hospitals”, Dr Bashir added.

Muhammad Usman, Program Director of Dareecha Male Health Society, also confirmed that young men and transgenders were increasingly being tested positive for HIV in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and said their organisation, which is a community-based-organisation is working for the welfare and wellbeing of the men and transgenders who are tested positive for the HIV.

“Use of drugs is very high among male sex workers, transgender community and men having sex with men. Under influence of drugs, they abandon all kinds of precautions and often they get infected with HIV”, Usman added.

Originally published in The News