Kabul, May 31 (EFE).- Afghan health Ministry said it can only provide treatment to one third of the HIV patients in the country due to low awareness about the virus in society and insufficient budget due to cut in international aid after the Taliban returned to power in 2021.
“Of the 3,309 people affected with HIV virus we only provide treatment to 1,100 of them due to the lack of treatment centers, surgery services, transportation, logistic, and other necessary medicines,” Mohammad Naseer Manawari, the country’s program director for the control of AIDS/HIV, told EFE.
Manawari said international partners in recent two years have reduced their donations to the HIV-program by 50 percent, causing a significant reduction in health services for patients.
The Health Ministry currently provides HIV treatment services only in 14 of the 34 Afghan provinces and has only six HIV-Specialized Centers.
Due to lack of resources, reliable data on HIV prevalence in Afghanistan is sparse, where World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there have been around 12,000 Afghans living with HIV in the country.
Afghanistan had recorded 140 new HIV cases in 2022, a slight increase from 117 in 2021 and 129 in 2020.
“We need a budget to conduct a comprehensive study to determine the exact number of those suffering from the disease,” Manawari said, adding that HIV has claimed 344 lives in the country since 2003, 43 of them in 2022 alone.
Lack of public awareness about HIV is another challenge in Afghanistan as people are not aware of how the disease is transmitted, as well as the risks and vulnerabilities associated with it.
In Afghanistan, HIV patients face a social stigma and patients with the virus prefer not to disclose their condition, or avoid getting tested to avoid social discrimination. Many people even refuse to get treated in hospitals.
Mohammad Khan Hedayat, director of the HIV ward at the Afghan-Japan Hospital in Kabul, told EFE that his center currently has only four patients hospitalized despite having registered more than 1,300 cases of the disease in recent years.
Reza, 28, has been suffering from HIV infection for the past eight years, but only his close relatives know about it as he prefers not to disclose it to anyone.
“It is very difficult to be infected with this illness. I cannot say how I got infected,” he said.
Bashir, 50, who came to the hospital to accompany his HIV-infected wife, prefers to tell those around him that his wife had COVID not HIV.
However, Hedayat said female HIV patients suffer the most in the society compared to the men.
They usually “avoid meeting with their relatives, except with those closest to them or who already know about their infection,” he said. EFE