Why young men are increasingly testing positive for HIV in Islamabad?

In this image taken on May 8, 2019, a Pakistani doctor examines the blood sample from a patient for a HIV test at a state-run hospital. - AFP
In this image taken on May 8, 2019, a Pakistani doctor examines the blood sample from a patient for a HIV test at a state-run hospital. – AFP

ISLAMABAD: A shocking number of 519 people have tested positive for HIV in Islamabad during the last 10 months – between January 01 to October 31, 2022, and their alarming majority comprises young men in the age group of 18 to 25 years of age being categorized as men having sex with men (MSM) in addition to transgenders, officials said on Wednesday.

“Around 519 new HIV patients have been registered at the treatment centre at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad who were tested positive for HIV in the 10 months of this year so far. On average 51 people are being tested positive for HIV every month in Islamabad”, an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) told The News.

The federal health ministry official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, claimed that of the 519 new HIV patients, around 40 to 45 percent people are ‘young men in the age group of 18-25 years’ who categorize themselves as ‘homosexuals’ or men having sex with men while the other major group was transgenders, who were also involved in ‘unsafe sexual practices.

According to the data, 38 new people tested positive for HIV at PIMS Islamabad in January, 61 in the month of February, 40 in March, 34 in March, 45 in May while the highest number of new HIV infections were reported in the month of June this year. In July 53 new HIV patients were registered with PIMS treatment centre, 61 tested positive for HIV in August, 64 in September and 49 new people have been tested positive for the HIV in the month of October 2022.

“Keeping in view the growing burden of HIV cases in the capital, we have established another treatment centre for HIV patients at Polyclinic Hospital, Islamabad which is functional for the last few weeks but it has yet to be inaugurated formally”, the NHS official maintained.

Dr. Nailana Bashir, Incharge of the HIV treatment centre at PIMS Islamabad, which has been declared as a ‘special clinic’ said over 4500 people living with HIV are registered with them and their number is growing with each passing day. “Every day two to three new people are being tested positive for HIV at our diagnostic lab at PIMS Islamabad. Ironically, most of them who are being tested positive for the last couple of years are young, educated men who practice same sex. Most of them know their practice so they search about risks involved with their sexual behaviour and get themselves tested for HIV”, Dr. Naila added.

She said the rise in the number of young, educated men of well-to-do families in Islamabad was observed during COVID-19 peak days and for the last couple of years, most of the people tested for HIV at PIMS Islamabad lab are young boys, both from the affluent class as well as young labourers who are living at their workplaces in the suburbs of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. When asked why HIV was spreading so rapidly among the young men or boys in and around the capital, she said public health experts and officials should respond to this query.

“When this centre was established in 2005, mostly people deported from Gulf countries used to come to this centre, later injectable drug users’ number increased but now the number of young men and transngenders infected with HIV is increasing with each passing day”, she said and disclosed that not a single female sex worker was registered with the HIV treatment centre at PIMS Islamabad. She maintained that young men and boys who tested positive for HIV need psychological help because as soon as they learn about their HIV status, many of them have suicidal thoughts and some of them even try to commit suicide. “But I give them a clear message. HIV is now a treatable disease. An HIV patient can live a normal life if he or she takes medicine on daily basis, get his or basic tests done and seek medical treatment, which is free of charge at government hospitals”, Dr Bashir added.

Muhammad Usman, Program Director of Dareecha Male Health Society also confirmed that young men and transgenders were increasingly being tested positive for HIV in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and said their organization, which is a community-based-organization is working for the welfare and wellbeing of the men and transgenders who are tested positive for the HIV. “Use of drugs is very high among male sex workers, transgender community and men having sex with men. Under influence of drugs, they abandon all kinds of precautions and often they get infected with HIV”, Muhammad Usman added.

Leave a Comment