NUST, Islamabad- A seminar regarding the HIV/AIDS took place on 17th December, 2013 at the NBS Seminar Hall, NUST. The speakers included Ms. Anne Bergenstorm, a research psychologist from UNODC and Dr. Muhammad Saleem, UNAIDS strategic advisor. Dr. Rajwal, Senior Program Coordinator of National AIDS Control Program (NACP) was also present at the occasion.
Ms. Anne Bergenstrom is currently serving as a Regional Adviser, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). She has previously worked as an advisor/expert on HIV/AIDS with the UNAIDS office as well as an HIV/AIDS specialist at the UNICEF. She holds a PhD from the University College of London and has also worked as a Research Psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine.
Dr Muhammad Saleem currently holds the position of Monitoring and Evaluations advisor at UNAIDS.
The seminar revolved around the basic information of how HIV/AIDS is transferred, its statistics, and the pressing issues regarding it in Pakistan.
Ms. Anne Bergenstorm started by discussing the HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs. She highlighted that although some of the countries in Asia have a stable rate of HIV infections, however, a few countries still face a higher number of infections. Reasons included heterosexual transmission in Philippines and Indonesia, and a high number of drug use in Pakistan, main choice being Heroin.
She pointed out how the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) has a mandate on working with the government in order to reduce or to help people prevent HIV who use drugs in normal conditions and also in prison settings. Moreover, in 2011, a special assembly was held, making a political declaration to reduce the transmission of AIDS through drug users by 50% by 2013. She also mentioned the UNODC’s definition of drug dependence, which quoted people not as having a week character or morals but rather facing a psychological or psychotic condition called chronic relapsing health disorder.
Further, she talked about a public health approach being needed to reduce the HIV transmission, which included Needle Syringe Programs, OST and other evidence based drug dependence treatment and Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) for people with HIV.
She cleared out how HIV is actually transmitted i.e. from sharing a syringe of an HIV positive person, direct blood contact, unprotected intercourse, and from mother to baby, and ended her presentation by removing the misconception of HIV infection being transmitted through bodily fluids.
The next speaker, Dr. Muhammad Saleem briefed about the global, regional and national HIV situation. He identified Sub Saharan Africa as the worst HIV affected area, main cause being heterosexual transmission, leading to stigmas and discrimination associated with HIV regarding that area. Primary route of AIDS infection in Eastern Europe and Asia was said to be injection drugs users.
Elaborate statistical data was explained, indicating total number of HIV infection people to be 35 million and deaths by HIV in 2012 to be 1.6 million.
Further into the discussion, Asia’s condition was presented, where the epidemic was seen as concentrated in Key populations i.e. People injecting drugs, sex workers and their clients, and men having sex with other men.
Along with this, Dr. Muhammad Saleem explained the situation of HIV in Pakistan, highlighting 87000 people as infected. An increasing trend of HIV prevalence was shown towards the injection drug users, highest numbers being in Karachi, Faisalabad, Gujrat and DG Khan. This trend was followed by Hijra Sex Workers as second, Male and Female Sex Workers being third and fourth.
He explained that although the trends were high, 7800 PHLIV had registered in treatment centers in October 2013 and 3906 people were seeking Antiretroviral Therapy.
The session gave an insight into the situation of Pakistan and the world regarding AIDS and what is being done to reduce it. An interactive Question-Answers session was held at the end, with active participation from both the audience and the speakers.