Monday, June 17, 2019
#Pakistan - #HIV Hitting #Punjab - #Pakistani authorities cannot exonerate themselves from the criminal negligence that they have shown so far.
After terrorizing the people of Sindh, HIV/Aids virus is being reported at an alarming rate in some districts of Punjab. According to a finding, Punjab AIDS Control Program (PACP) has registered more than 2800 patients from five districts – Faisalabad, Chiniot, Sahiwal, Jhang and Nankana – so far. The figures can go up in the days to come.
Had the provincial government and concerned department been vigilant against the life-taking disease, the figures could have been controlled. The authorities cannot exonerate themselves from the criminal negligence that they have shown so far. What is shocking and disgusting is the behaviour of the provincial authorities that tried to sweep the issue under the carpet instead of organising screening camps to probe the reasons for the surge in the numbers of the HIV patients. Before anything else, the Punjab government should initiate an investigation against officials who issued strict warnings to the PACP staff against bringing any information out in public.
Also, the Chief Minister (CM) should immediately fire those who tried to conceal the issue. If the Punjab government does not take action against the responsible ones, then it is difficult to ignore that the provincial government was also in collaboration with the concerned authorities to avoid earning a bad name for itself.
Those who do not learn from the mistakes of others tend to repeat such mistakes. Instead of learning from the mistakes of Sindh the Health authorities in Punjab chose to remain idle against the menace of quackery that according to the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) is the leading cause of HIV/AIDS spread. Even in the largest province of Naya Pakistan, departments are not fulfilling their duties, as the members of PMA accuse the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) of ignoring the quackery.
Although Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had made tall claims to revolutionise the health sector of the country, the provincial minister for health, Dr Yasmin Rashid, did not make herself available to comment on the spread of HIV. What is clear from the recent surge in cases of HIV/ AIDS cases is the fact that authorities here do not value preventive approach against any menace. Officials only come into action when a mishap happens.
Yet the increase in the cases of HIV/AIDS cannot be termed as an epidemic; nevertheless, the surge in the number of HIV/AIDS patients at an alarming level is an issue of real concern. The provincial government should take all the necessary actions to save others from falling victims to HIV/AIDS.
After the HIV panic that struck Rato Dero in the Larkana district of Sindh, with 751 persons including 600 children testing positive, Punjab has owned up to a major HIV problem of its own. In five districts, Faisalabad, Chiniot, Sahiwal, Jhang and Nankana Sahib, there are currently more than 2,800 patients registered with the Punjab AIDS Control Programme. There could of course be other sufferers who have not been detected or have not registered for free medication. Indeed, this is likely given that most discovered their condition accidentally, in screening before donating blood, undergoing a surgery or travelling overseas.
While the authorities have denied the surge in HIV cases, there are also other concerns. One of these is the reportedly routine refusal by public-sector hospitals to perform surgery on HIV-infected patients. As a result, these persons turn to dubious private clinics or quacks who use equipment that may not later undergo proper sterilisation, thereby contributing to the spread of the disease. As has been the case in Sindh, health sources also believe quacks are a major cause behind the spread of the virus as are unregistered doctors who use unsafe equipment. This is obviously an emergency.
The WHO had already declared a level two emergency in Sindh and will be releasing its report on the situation early next year. The organisation has said that $1.5 million is needed to tackle the epidemic. While it cannot generate the full amount, it will be making some payment towards tackling HIV in Sindh.
The organisation also warns that Pakistan is now registering nearly 20,000 new HIV cases annually. This is the highest figure in the region. It will do no good to try and cover up the truth. All medical bodies and health officials need in fact to make it more public so that people can adopt necessary safeguards. It is essential that awareness and knowledge be spread to do away with myths and misperceptions. Today, drugs to combat AIDS are available in markets. Too few in Pakistan know about them or have access to them. Such ignorance can contribute only to an even more rapid growth in infection. The government needs to adopt a more transparent and more aggressive approach to prevent an even bigger crisis from taking hold across the country.
The sources said that since the surfacing of a large number of HIV/AIDS cases in Ratto Dero taaulqa of Larkana district, Sindh, earned a bad name for the province’s government, the authorities concerned in Punjab were not highlighting the issue to save their skin.
With waves of arrests, Pakistani investigators are trying to unravel trafficking networks that convince impoverished Pakistanis to marry off their daughters to Chinese men for cash and they say evidence is growing that many of the women and girls are sold into prostitution once in China.
At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency. Pakistani government officials, however, have ordered police to remain quiet about the extent of the networks, fearing it could hurt increasingly close economic ties with Beijing, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
"We are interested only in stopping the trafficking. Make no mistake, this is trafficking," said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the government order. "We think the majority are sold as prostitutes," he said of the women married in the trafficking schemes.
The Associated Press spoke to seven girls who had been forced to marry Chinese men, four of them still in China. Each described how their new husbands handed them over to paying clients to be raped.
"I was living in hell-like conditions, silently weeping, silently praying for help," said 20-year-old Natasha Masih. She told of how her husband locked her in a hotel in the remote northwest Chinese city of Urumqi and forced her into prostitution.
Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men. Most of the women are from Pakistan's small Christian community, who are among the country's most desperately poor. Brokers offer families cash to give their daughters as brides, promising them well-off Chinese husbands who would give them a good life. The business is fueled by demand in China, where men outnumber women.
In Pakistan, some Christian pastors are paid to help brokers lure members of their flock into marriages and the girls — married against their will — become isolated in China and vulnerable to abusive husbands, previous AP reporting found.
China's ambassador to Pakistan, speaking on local television, denied girls are trafficked to China and sold into prostitution. Trafficking was not discussed during a visit to Pakistan this month by China's vice president, Wang Qishan. In comments carried in the Pakistani press, Wang denied trafficking was taking place.
"China is denying it is happening, but we are showing the proof," said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped bring girls back from China.
The two law enforcement officials said one of the trafficking networks raided by police, based in the city of Lahore, had been operating for at least a year. It was protected by corrupt policemen, and the son of a former senior police official served as the lynchpin between the Chinese and Pakistani operatives, the officials said.
One woman, Sumaira, told the AP how her brothers were paid by brokers and forced her into such a marriage in July last year. The 30-year-old said her husband took her first to a house in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and there she was raped each night by Chinese men for a week.
Before they were to leave for China, she convinced her husband to allow her to go home to say farewell to her sisters. There, she refused to return to the husband and screamed at her brothers, "Why did you sell me? How much money did you get for me?'" she said. The brothers beat her, but she managed to escape to the home of an uncle.
Before her marriage, Sumaira had run a beauty salon in a poor, mostly Christian neighborhood of the Punjab town of Gujranwala. "I was a very different person than what you see now," she said. "Then I had hope. I believed in my future. Now I don't know."
Masih told the AP she was married off in November and soon after left her home in Faisalabad, flying to China with her husband. He took her to the northwest of the country, to a small house in a forested area. Three male and two female friends of her husband shared the house.Her husband forced her to have sex with the men. Then he took her to the Urumqi hotel, where he confined her to a room and sold her into prostitution.
"I bought you in Pakistan," she said her husband told her. "You belong to me. You are my property."
Natasha made furtive calls to her parents on her mobile phone, and her mother turned to her church for help. One parishioner, Farooq Masih, formed a group of men from the congregation to try to rescue Natasha. One of the men had a younger brother who was a student in China, said Masih, who is not related to Natasha. The brother agreed to pose as a client and pay him to sleep with Natasha.
Instead, when the student went to the hotel in a taxi, he called Natasha and told her to slip out to meet him.
"I saw him and quickly I took my clothes and got into his taxi," she said. "I didn't ask his name. I didn't ask anything, I just said, 'Brother, thank you.'" Soon she was on a plane to Pakistan.Farooq Masih and the men from the church have since dedicated hours to unearthing trafficking networks. They recently conducted their own sting operation in Faisalabad, orchestrating a fake marriage that led the Federal Investigation Agency to the brokers and the pastor who solemnized the unions for a fee.
"I am lucky," Natasha said. "Many girls who were taken there by their husbands are still living a terrible life. ... Now I know what is freedom and what is slavery. In China, I was treated as a slave by my husband."