by Raheela Nazir
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Doctors and officials in Pakistan recently urged the society to be aware of the increasing numbers of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) infection cases as new data released showed that HIV/AIDS infection cases were increasing across the country in 2017.
An estimated 133,000 people in Pakistan are living with HIV positive, according to the latest statistics released by National AIDS Control Program (NACP), adding that as many as 21,129 new cases reported across the country in 2017 and some 9,000 died of HIV in Pakistan this year.
The report titled "Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance in Pakistan 2016-17" said that though the number of new HIV cases has declined globally over the past decade, Pakistan remains one of the few countries to witness an increase in the number of cases.
Despite many efforts, the HIV infection rate has increased significantly over the past few years, said Baseer Khan Achakzai, the national program manager of NACP.
"However, we can control AIDS by raising awareness about causes, symptoms, and prevention of this disease among the public," he said, "Instead of stigmatizing or getting afraid of AIDS, it is important to see a doctor and get treatment."
The Pakistan's Federal Ministry of Health initiated the NACP in 1987 for effective control of the epidemic. The organization is working on HIV testing and counseling, surveillance and treatment, care and support services and data collection across the country.
Rizwan Qazi, head of HIV/AIDS Department at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital (PIMS), told Xinhua that the center for treatment and prevention at the hospital had registered a total of 2,834 patients with HIV positive and AIDS from 2005-2017.
The Islamabad-based hospital registered as many as 322 patients with HIV and AIDS positive in 2015, 335 patients in 2016, whereas in 2017 the center has registered 207 patients so far, according to Qazi.
Deputy Director of PIMS Waseem Ahmed Khawaja said AIDS is still one of the greatest public health challenges faced by low and middle-income countries.
Khawaja said social stigma is still the biggest hurdle for a number of patients to have treatment of HIV and AIDS which is alarming. "In Pakistan, HIV is still a taboo that leads to discrimination. The patient would become an outcast when he socially disclosed that he is suffering from the deadly disease."
Limited surveillance, voluntary counseling and testing systems, lack of knowledge among the general population and health practitioners over AIDS should be aware of by the government and related authorities in Pakistan, according to Khawaja.
Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar vowed recently that the government of Pakistan supported and committed bold strategies aimed at ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
"We recognize the potentially devastated consequences of the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS on social, cultural, economic and development prospects in context of Sustainable Development Goals," Tarar said on the eve of World AIDS Day 2017 marked on Dec. 1 in the country and worldwide.