World AIDS Day takes place on December 1 each year. It was first observed over thirty years ago and was the first ever global health day. There are currently an estimated 37.9 million people living with HIV and yet the disease remains a taboo.
Pakistan witnessed a medical mystery which made headlines in the town of Ratodero near Larkana earlier this year. Some children with persistent fevers were tested for HIV leading to 14 positive results. Additional testing revealed 494 children in the area were HIV-positive. This lead to further investigations until it was revealed that many of the patients consulted the same doctor, Muzaffar Ghanghro, who was himself was HIV positive.
The total number of diagnosed HIV cases in Larkana since April was staggering: 735 children, 159 adults. These figures released on July 2 could be the tip of the iceberg. There was panic among parents that their child could die the next day. The Sindh government and local health authorities rightly face immense criticism. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was quick to assert that HIV was not a death sentence. Soon the media hub died down and although still suffering, these victims were forgotten
There is still a lot of misconception and misinformation, and a need to build empathy and respect for people living with HIV. It is for this purpose that World AIDS Day is observed worldwide to provide people an opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died with AIDS-related illness.
Today, advances have been made in HIV treatment. Many countries have laws to protect people living with HIV but there is still a need to spread awareness on how victims should protect themselves and others. They is also a need to overcome the stigma and discrimination which remains a reality for many people living with this condition.
World AIDS Day is a reminder that HIV has not gone away and there is still a need to raise funds, spread awareness, improve education, fight prejudice, and most importantly show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV worldwide.