KARACHI         -          Professor Dr Saeed Khan of Dow International Medical College on Thursday said that Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV) was the causative agent of AIDS that damaged patient’s immune system.

Speaking on the last day of three-day Probe (Physiology Resonates and Ozonizes Biological Existence) 2020 Conference, organised by the Department of Physiology, University of Karachi, he said that it had been observed that HIV-1 subtype A was more prevalent among different high-risk groups in Pakistan, including injection drug users (IDUs).

He said Pakistan had witnessed a change in terms of the prevalence of HIV infection; from low prevalence to a country with a concentrated epidemic in high-risk groups.

He said it had also been observed that in the past few years there were several different emerging subtypes and recombinant forms circulating the country. “Due to emerging subtypes, recombinant forms and increasing accessibility of Anti-Retroviral therapy, there is emergence of drug resistance in patients receiving medications,” he explained.

“Recently Pakistan is facing an HIV outbreak, particularly in the rural Sindh. According to Sindh AIDS Control programme, 26,041 people have been screened for HIV since the beginning of the outbreak and 751 people have been tested positive for HIV. The root cause or the mode of transmission of this epidemic is still a mystery, and the data on the molecular characterization, drug resistance and its origin of spread is not available.”

Professor Dr Khan shared that in Africa, HIV cases were detected in 1980s with low prevalence, which then increased to more than 20 percent in some regions in the late 2000s. “Now Pakistan is witnessing that phase of HIV epidemic that was previously observed in Africa,” he elaborated.

He said that while discussing AIDS, it was necessary to talk about the social stigma, fear of social disapproval and denial of accepting the reality attached to this disease.

“In an Islamic state like Pakistan, topics related to sexual intercourse and safe sex are considered as taboos so they are less discussed, resulting in continuous increase in the number of AIDS patients.”

He said there was a need to take steps to reduce the stigma attached with HIV/AIDS so that masses could speak up and talk about the disease and its modes of transmission etc openly. “This will increase acceptance in the society for the HIV-infected patients,” he argued. Professor Dr Khan urged that in the current situation, there was an urgent need for educating people on the means of transmission and prevention of this disease.

He opined that in view of the fact that the government’s resources were limited, it was our collective responsibility to deal with the HIV-related fear and stigma, because no one was safe until everyone was safe.

Consultant Hematologist and Bone Marrow Transplant Physician at the Children’s Hospital Karachi Dr Saqib Hussain Ansari informed the audience that Thalassemia management without blood transfusion had a great prospect, especially in the middle and low-income countries. Furthermore, he said that stem cell transplantation was not practical due to a variety of factors like financial costs, donor unavailability and scarcity of transplantation facilities. He shared with the audience that between January 2004 and December 2017, a total of 1135 patients were diagnosed with beta Thalassemia of whom 221 dropped out for different reasons.

Dr Syed Aqeel Ahmed, Chief Operating Officer, Tabba Kidney Institute, Karachi, said there had been an extraordinary development in the field of medicine in the past 200 years. 

Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences, Mohammad Ali Jinnah University, Professor Dr Muhammad Kamran Azim, said that type-2 diabetes had emerged as a growing health issue that had affected more than 170 million individuals worldwide. He mentioned that according to WHO, number of affected individuals by type-2 diabetes is expected to rise in Pakistan from 4.3 million in 1995 to 14.5 million in 2025, making Pakistan at number four among the top ten countries of the world affected by diabetes.

He said that it is well known that diabetes is associated with inflammation and altered immune response. However, he added that the specific cellular and molecular mechanisms involved are not fully resolved.

The students and intellectuals from nationwide institutions including Bahauddin Zakria University (Multan), Islamia University (Bahawalpur), University of Health Sciences (Lahore), University of Sindh (Jamshoro) participated in PROBE 2020.

The conference was partnered with Pakistan Physiological Society and South Asian Association of Physiologists and supported by the Higher Education Commission-Pakistan, Pakistan Science Foundation, Office of Research Innovation and Commercialization and World Poultry Science Association.