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Only 17% of those with HIV know they are infected’

Pakistan has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in Asia. The number of people living with HIV is increasing day by day because of unsafe health practices and continued stigma against the condition.

Only around 17% of those with HIV or AIDS know they are infected, said Dr Zafar Mirza, special assistant to the prime minister on health, on SAMAA TV’s programme Naya Din on Monday.

Compared to this, the percentage in neighbouring India is 56%. The stigma associated with AIDS keeps people from getting themselves tested, Dr Mirza lamented.

Until people don’t take responsibility of their illness, change their habits, take precautionary measures and accept those living with the disease, things will not get better, he warned.

The practice of getting injections for every illness needs to end, Dr Mirza said, adding that 95% of these injections are unnecessary. These injections were given with disposable syringes, most of which are reused multiple times, sometimes even without being sterilised.

“By next year we will eliminate disposable syringes in the private sector,” said the special assistant. “Even their manufacturing and import will be stopped in Pakistan.”

They are starting with the private sector because doctors there had the most incentive to prescribe unnecessary injections to make money, he explained.

Gradually, disposable syringes would be completely replaced by autodisable or autodestruct syringes. This work could be carried out by the newly-formed national task force on injection safety. The task force will then focus on mass media campaigns to tell people why there’s a need to reduce injections in the country, Dr Mirza said.

Another reason for the rapid spread of HIV is unsafe blood transfusions.

By 2023, the health minister promised that 100% of the blood transfusions in the country will be made safe. They will be screened for all transmissible infectious diseases beforehand.

There was also an urgent need to end the stigma against sexual practices and encourage safe sexual behaviour, especially among the transgender community and people who inject drugs, Dr Mirza said.

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