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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
PAKISTAN: Pakistan's Shunned HIV Victims Fight Pariah Status

December 20, 2011
Agence France Presse (12.01.11) - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The charity group Pakistan Society provides support services to those diagnosed with HIV and works to reduce AIDS-related stigma across the southern city of Karachi and the wider Sindh province.

Pakistan, the second-largest country in South Asia, had an estimated 97,400 HIV/AIDS cases in 2009, according to UN data. The National AIDS Control Program there says Pakistan is a "low-prevalence, high-risk" country, meaning rates are low among the general population, but there is a high concentration of cases among groups such as injecting drug users.

State-run hospitals, clinics, and health centers across Pakistan provide free antiretroviral treatment, but stigma and ignorance continue to be problems.

Rubina Naz was diagnosed with HIV four years ago, following the death of her husband, a drug addict. They married when she was 16 and had two sons and two daughters together, but Naz did not know he had AIDS until after his death. "I didn't know what it was until I was tested [HIV-] positive," she said.

"My in-laws threw me out and took my kids. Even most of my own family treated me like a sinner and stayed away when I was desperate to be helped," said Naz.

Naz now works as a kitchen assistant at Pakistan Society. The charity's head, Dr. Saleem Azam, said her case is typical. "In our male-dominant society, women have fewer choices to save themselves from their HIV-positive husbands," said Azam. "The majority have not heard of the disease and if they do, they cannot stop their husbands from afflicting them." The 2009 survey revealed that 15 percent of wives of injecting drug users in the Larkana district, home of the Bhutto political dynasty, were HIV-positive. Azam believes actual incidence may be much higher. There could be many women "who die of the disease without even knowing what happened to them," he said.