People-to-people contacts and AIDS
If India fears cross-border infiltration by terrorists, Pakistan fears cross-border infection — especially by the HIV/AIDS. Dr Srichand Ochani, the chief of the AIDS Control Programme of Pakistan’s Sindh province, believes that given the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India “growing cross-border mobilisation of the populations of the two countries could lead to a further increase in the ratio of such a lethal disease”. According to Dr Ochani, the Pakistani government is considering HIV-screening tests for people traveling to or coming from India.
Referring to a study about sex workers in Mumbai, his colleague Dr Sharfuddin Shah feared that since Mumbai is more ‘liberal’ than Karachi, frequent mobility between the two mega cities will mainly affect the people of Karachi.
Ironically, Dr Shah percieves India as a good source of anti-HIV drugs too. â€œWeâ€™ll greatly benefit from normalisation of our relations when we purchase medicines to cure HIV/AIDS from India at cheaper rates. India is the largest supplier of these drugs, while we do not import a single drug for the disease legally,â€ he said.
The exact incidence of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan is something of a mystery. According to the Pakistani government, there are only 2741 cases in Pakistan, while the WHO puts this as closer to 80,000. Dr Shah’s own estimates put the number of in the range of hundreds of thousands.
The Pakistani health authorities are justified in taking adequate precautions to ensure that the increasing volume of human traffic does not end up resulting in public health problems. However, as long as Pakistan’s own AIDS situation remains obfuscated, they may be focusing their energies on the wrong threat. The drug-addicts of Larkana may pose a greater danger than the sex-workers of Mumbai.