By: Nazish Karim
Current challenges in curbing the spread of the HIV infection includes the lack of comprehensive knowledge on HIV in all age groups in Pakistan, the persistence of stigma and discrimination, the fact that majority of Persons Living with HIV are not on treatment, women being disproportionately affected apart from the challenge posed by the sustained supply of HIV commodities.
Currently, HIV/AIDS is not only a health problem for the people but attained a position which is pretty much of concern and it has become a security concern for many parts of the word including Pakistan. Alarmingly, the situation is worse in the developing world where more than 90 percent of the AIDS victims are based. The reason behind is that the developing world is facing other problems which are not letting the governments and people think about the problem of HIV/AIDS. Countries where the AIDS has been more threatening as such nations are engulfed with hunger, poverty, and lack of medical care, illiteracy, and no awareness and under development.
Like many others, talking about Pakistan, the most rooted reason behind is the stigma association with this life threatening disease. People are very much behind the advanced world in terms of access and knowledge about the disease.
Princess Diana has said – “AIDS/HIV does not make people dangerous to know, you can shake their hands and give them a hug; heaven know that they need it!” It is true for a country like – Pakistan, where HIV/AIDS is still considered to be a taboo and a forbidden subject and people don’ttalk about it much. Pakistan’s first HIV/AIDS case was detected in 1987. The number has been increased according to the annual report of Pakistan National AIDS Control Program (NACP).
The overall frequency of HIV infection in adults aged 15 to 49 is 0.1 percent but majority of the cases also go unreported especially in the rural part of the country due to social taboos about sex and the general fear among the victims. Pakistan is considered to be a very vulnerable country and the women are at high risk of HIV/AIDS; they are the innocent victims in the rapidly growing HIV endemic in Pakistan. The major contribution to this pandemic which has escalated the risk for women in Pakistan has been the cultural barriers along with the inequality of women’s right. The state government has been unable to design and implement the policies which could have limited the impunity for rape and domestic violence, despite the alarming high incidences of such acts in the country, the government has been failed to protect its women and young girls.
Pakistan women are also faced with the socio economic factors like gender equality which puts them at risk of HIV/AIDS. Since women in the country have lower socio-economic status, they have very less mobility and they mostly lack decision power abilities, such factors are some major elements which triggers up their HIV vulnerability. For example, there is a clear gender disparity in the education sector in the country and the women enrollment is much lower 41 percent than male which is 65 percent. Due to common illiteracy among the women, it becomes extremely difficult to reach out to these women with the information about HIV/AID preventive efforts; it is an obstacle to reach such women about how they can prevent themselves from HIV infection. Additionally, women in Pakistan are often faced with restriction on mobility and in the worse cases they are not even allowed to leave their homes without a male counterpart; this makes it very difficult for women to get access to health and social services like basic reproductive health care services. On the other hand, the Pakistani culture and traditions prevent these women from getting medical treatment from male doctors and the women’s decision making power is very low and it effects the decisions for safer sexual practices with their partners. However, it is very crucial that the widespread HIV must be discussed among the masses of the country. Knowing, understanding and responding to the HIV epidemic in woman and young girls is the biggest challenge and an absolute need in the country like Pakistan. It is important that more quantitative and qualitative research about HIV risk behavior in women and girls be carried out with the proper support of the national government and the donor agencies. The women leaderships and empowerment must be encouraged to transform the social and cultural norms, it is also vital to engage men to work for gender equality. It is very important that the women suffering from HIV/AIDS are also given psychological help, since the women are often discriminated from rest of the masses. Understanding and addressing the self-management for HIV/AIDS women is the ultimate challenge in the country like Pakistan where there are lack of compassion and appreciation among the people.
Moreover, Pakistan is a male dominated society and it is very important that law and national policies should play their pivotal roles. HIV testing should be made compulsory by law for both the parties before marriage which will bring about positive changes in the physical, social, economic and legal environments influencing the risk of Aids risk and its prevention. Mukhtara Mai case had been a distressing example of the life of women especially in the rural Pakistan. She was an uneducated woman who suffered horrifying treatment at the hands of the villagers after she was brutally raped but yet she fought back and after much struggle and trauma, she became internationally known activist in the struggle for the equality between the genders and women’s right in Pakistan. She has now inspired a movement to educate the young girls and boys and to make a difference in the society. The American actress and political activist Ashley Judd has rightly said – ‘the empowerment of girls and women is the essential tool for preventing the HIV/AIDS emergency from exploding any further’.