Second SAARC conference on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases was organized by SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC) on 15-18th December, 2008 in Kathmandu.
STAC started functioning in Kathmandu, Nepal since 1992 as one of the regional centres for SAARC with the objective to work for prevention and control of tuberculosis and HIV related tuberculosis in the region by coordinating the efforts of the National Tuberculosis Control Programmes of the member countries. Later on STAC has been mandated to work for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in the region (during birth it was named SAARC Tuberculosis Centre. HIV/AIDS was added in the name in 2006).
While carrying out activities, STAC realised that it is also necessary to exchange knowledge based on research activities to have clear picture of the region and insight of newer ways. Keeping these in mind, STAC organised maiden conference in 2004 followed by the second one in 2008.
The theme of this conference was HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and respiratory diseases. As HIV destroys one’s immune system, infected person becomes prone to opportunistic infections like tuberculosis and other respiratory tract infections. In such situation patients have to fight against multiple pathology. That is why, efforts needed to be made to disseminate knowledge not only on HIV but also infections like tuberculosis that takes the chance of immune suppression caused by HIV. That is exactly what STAC attempted in second SAARC conference on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and respiratory diseases.
Delegates from SAARC countries presented paper elaborating HIV situation of their countries. In India, an estimated number of PLHA is 2.47 million. An estimated 85,000 and 70,256 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan and Nepal respectively. Though it is a matter of great relief that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among adults is less than 1% in Bangladesh with an estimated number of infected 7500 we must not be complacent about the current data. HIV infection in Bangladesh is still believed to be confined among the vulnerable groups such as sex workers, injecting drug users because of their risk behavior.
One presentation informed that 77.2% of male IDUs in Dhaka have reported borrowing or lending used syringes. Once the virus is leaked and spread in general population, we will have to face the HIV epidemic.
We, as a nation have to be aware to prevent HIV infection. But what about those people who already are living with the virus? Do we have positive attitude towards them? Now time has come to stop scaring people in the name of HIV/AIDS. We have to understand that people can live with HIV infection.
All we need to have a positive approach towards PLHA. Acquiring HIV is unfortunate, not crime. If Mr. Co-chairperson of that specific session, living with the virus can roam around the world (he has to attend a lot of conferences) raising his voice for the rights of PLHA, why not others can live.
People with AIDS have to be within comprehensive coverage of ART. It is revealed from the conference that there is about ten times more DOTs center than ART centers in Nepal. ART needs to be made available at low cost to HIV positive people. They need to be given total support against all health hazards they could possibly suffer. If cushioned properly, people living with HIV/AIDS can also live a productive life.
The writer is a Research Associate at James P. Grant School of Public Health of BRAC University.
Source: The Daily Star, January 03, 2008