Globally, the number of HIV-infected people is steadily rising but the number of newly-affected people has decreased by 40pc since 1998. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 7,200 people in Afghanistan are estimated to be HIV-positive. This is while the World AIDS Day was observed on Sunday across the globe to acknowledge the role of communities in dealing with and controlling the spread of this deadly virus. However, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said that it registered only 2,883 cases of HIV in the country and reported a decrease from 183 cases the previous year to 150 this year. This discrepancy in figures warrants the need for a precise study to determine the exact number of those suffering from the disease.
Social taboos, unsafe sexual and medical practices, including the reuse of syringes, and insufficient preventive and treatment response on the part of MoPH as some people have reported lack of treatment in hospitals, are some of the reasons that contribute to the prevalence of HIV in Afghanistan. Moreover, the incidence of this deadliest virus is highest among junkies who share needles while using drugs. This not properly addressed issue is something that poses a serious threat to the future generations of the country. Marking this day should be a sobering moment for the country’s health authorities who should set out to find solutions to this menace. Unfortunately, people who have contracted this disease through various means cannot share their illness with others, doctors especially, because it is a frowned upon phenomenon in the traditional community of the country. A comprehensive public awareness campaign should be conducted to make people aware of what precautions should be taken to avoid this virus, as well as encourage them to refer to specific health centers at once in case they have caught the virus.
Unfortunately, as a large number of people have limited access to healthcare services in remote parts of the country and a majority of others are unaware of safe medical practices, societal attitudes towards HIV have complicated the matter. Those infected are often shunned by society, something that prevents many from seeking medical help or intervention for their symptoms. As this year’s theme for World AIDS Day is ‘communities make the difference’, the Afghan community, civil society and religious scholars should join forces with the government to eliminate social taboos surrounding this disease. It’s crucial because the popular and false narrative holds that this virus is merely spread through illegitimate sexual intercourse while the ground reality is different and there are many reasons behind it. Therefore, boosting public awareness with regard to being careful and avoiding unsafe practices is the only viable way to help people stay safe from the disease. Meanwhile, the Ulema should make people aware, in addition to preaching them to follow the teachings of Islam in this regard, that there are other reasons for being infected and not just by sexual contact.