AIDS spreads in Afghanistan

By Ashley Cook
April 12, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

The United Nations in Afghanistan warns there is an increasing risk of HIV, that may lead to AIDS, spreading across the country. With the largest influx of people in its history, Afghanistan has recently added AIDS to its list of health troubles. With 69 recorded cases and 3 deaths, UN officials warn that the incident is becoming much greater.

As Afghans travel abroad for work in surrounding countries, they contract the disease and bring it back home, according to The New York Times. Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital recorded an estimated 6,000 intravenous drug users, mostly heroin addicts, whom recently returned home from refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.

“I was really surprised to hear the Afghan’s were injecting the heroin.” Dr. Jolyon Girard, professor of history and political science, said.

“Now is the time to act” UN Officials said, according to BBC News. With 1,000 drug users of its own, the UN warns conditions are absolute for an increase. According to the World Health Organization, 1,000 to 2,000 Afghans are infected, but Nilufar Egamberdi, a World Bank consultant on HIV/AIDS said that was “not even close to reality.”

Adriana DePalma, a sophomore history and political science major, said, ” Afghanistan is in the middle of becoming a developed democracy and is much still like a third world country. Because of this countries taboo’s and rules, it is very hard for them to learn more about AIDS.”

“Everything I know about it, it is preventable,” Girard said. Dr. James Hedtke, professor of history and political science agrees. Hedtke wonders “How would they have known about the AIDS epidemic if they remained under Taliban rule? Would more have died?”

Problems Afghanistan faces for revelation of HIV/AIDS disease is ostracism and even death. The Ministry of Health closely guards positive Afghan’s identities. Another problem Afghan’s face is their surrounding countries. Russia, China and India have the fastest growing AIDS incidence. “So long as you live in an Orthodox community, its very hard for the government to commit to something that is taboo,” Girard said.

“Anyone who is HIV positive needs to be educated about how to prevent infection. If they do keep it secret, someone could have it and not know,” Kimberly Boyd, associate professor in biology, said.

“It’s a global disease,” Hedtke said. But it is interesting to discover that 84% of Afghan’s have never heard of AIDS. The lack of education of the aids disease is another factor that could lead to a vast spread of this disease within Afghanistan, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“The blood test for HIV infection is not something standard for anyone in Afghanistan or even the U.S.,” Boyd said. “Only individuals concerned about infection get tested.”

“In a country with so many health problems already, it is impossible to give adequate attention to a future problem like AIDS. We are doing what we can but we have to focus on our bigger priorities,” Dr. Hedayatullah Stanekzai from the Ministry of Public Health said.

“I guess each country must determine the priorities for distribution of its financial resources, but I hope they can learn from what has happened in other places,” Boyd said. If perhaps there was better HIV education in the U.S. earlier, less people would be infected now. HIV/AIDS treatment costs the U.S. millions of dollars each year.”

There is little awareness for the spread of AIDS in Afghanistan, according to BBC News. Health Ministry officials devoted a $170 million budget this year to set up a HIV/AIDS department and to place stricter screening controls on the Central Blood Bank.

“Mass communication networks are likely not as established as those in the U.S. Many of the health-care professionals may not have the same information/training levels,” Boyd said. “Many individuals may not have access to health care. Responsibility for HIV/AIDS awareness might have to move to the smaller community level.”

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Ashley Cook

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