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Tajikistan Unjustly Bullish on Fight Against HIV

Tajikistan has declared an oddly premature victory over HIV/AIDS even as the spread of the disease continues in alarming fashion.

State news agency Khovar elected to mark World AIDS Day on December 1 with an editorial piece entitled “AIDS Sleeping Already: Number of HIV Infections on the Decline.”

Government representatives queried by Khovar praised what they say are the state’s efforts to do everything possible for the ill by providing them with free treatment. 

“According to statistics, the number of people infected with HIV in these years have become substantially lower and the measures adopted by the government have returned substantial results,” Kobiljon Mahmudov, the director of the Health Ministry’s Republican Center for Prophylaxis and Combat Against HIV, told Khovar.

While it is impossible to know if Mahmudov is being misquoted, the assertion that HIV infections are declining is disconcertingly inaccurate.

According to the most recent figures provided by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 5,242 people were living with HIV on December 31, 2014. That figure has grown steadily with every passing year. If there were 29 people with HIV for 100,000 living in Tajikistan in 2010, that number had risen to 64.9 by the end of last year.

In 2012, UNAIDS was compelled to describe the increase of HIV cases as alarming and noted that Tajikistan was among the countries where HIV prevalence had increased by more than 25 percent in the preceding decade.

In fairness to Tajikistan, if the number of infections detected is growing, it is in part because testing has expanded tenfold in the last 10 years.

In 2014, almost 582,990 people were tested for HIV, up from 517,540 in 2013, and 453,831 in 2012, according to Health Ministry statistics.  Back in 2005, that figure languished at a lowly 58,899.

That data is at slight variance with UNAIDS information, but the numbers coincide roughly and both sets indicate the same pattern. 

The main risk category are drug addicts, who account for 45.4 percent of HIV carriers, followed by people who contracted the infection through sexual contact, who account for 44.9 percent, according to official figures.

UNAIDS shows that the proportion of HIV transmission through sexual contact has risen sharply — from 32 percent of new cases detected in 2009 to 60.4 percent of new cases in 2014.

That hints at systemic weaknesses in sex education programs.

Government surveys from 2012 pointed at a continued lack of understanding among the 15-24 age group about ways to protect oneself from HIV and, among the 15-49 age group, reluctance to use condoms during sexual relations. 

Even the upbeat Khovar report alludes to the persisting social taboos attached to the disease.

“People, knowing that they are sick, do not want to take medicine, and instead hide their condition from everybody, which of course does not enable them to live a full life and also complicates matters for medics,” Mahmudov said.

Khovar said parliament is currently considering legislation requiring anybody intending to marry to first undergo a medical exam, which would include a test for HIV.

“The goal of this measure, which was proposed by the head of state, Emomali Rahmon, in response to statements and complaints from the public, would be to prevent case of unwitting infections … among people entering into marriage,” Khovar noted.

Tajikistan Unjustly Bullish on Fight Against HIV

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