Mohammad Jamal, 44, from Dhaka's Bikrampur, used to be a CNG run auto-rickshaw driver in the capital.
He developed the habit of taking drugs through injections in the company of some other local young men. After one and a half years, he became ill in 2014. A blood test revealed that he was infected with HIV/AIDS.
His miseries had just begun. Hearing of his HIV/AIDS infection, his wife and children left him. So did his siblings. His neighbours do not accept him either.
Jamal has been a patient at the Infectious Diseases Hospital for the past five years. Even when he is released from hospital, he comes back to it after two to three days. He is leading a lonely life in the hospital in the company of doctors, nurses and support staff.
Fatema Begum, 37, from Chattogram's Satkania, was infected with HIV/AIDS by her husband, an expatriate in Saudi Arabia. Her husband died two years ago. When it became known that she was infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, two years after her husband's death, her in-laws evicted her from her home. Her brothers also cut off relations with her. Due to her sickness, she has to stay for 15 to 20 days at the Infectious Diseases Hospital. Her mother stays with her often. The education of her two children has fallen into a state of uncertainty as a result of her ailment.
Like Jamal and Fatema, most HIV/AIDS patients in the country lead lonely lives. Our society is not yet ready to accept HIV patients. Their normal lives come to a standstill when HIV is detected in them. Though some NGOs are working to bring them back to normal life, the number of those actually returning to normalcy is insignificant.
In the opinion of doctors, people have to change the notion that HIV infection means death since HIV can be controlled and patients can lead normal lives through proper treatment.
Dr Nazrul Islam, eminent virus specialist and former vice chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Business Standard, "HIV patients can lead a normal life if they get the proper environment. They can even get married and give birth to non-infected children."
"It is not sufficient to provide treatment and medicine for HIV patients. We have to consider their loneliness as well. We have to ensure jobs, sports and education for them. The government cannot do it alone. NGOs have to come forward to create a suitable environment for HIV infected patients," Nazrul Islam added.
According to the National AIDS/STD Programme (NASP) of the health directorate, HIV/AIDS was first identified in Bangladesh in 1989. In 2018, a total of 879 were identified with HIV/AIDS. Between 1989 and 2018, altogether 6,455 persons were identified as being infected with HIV/AIDS. Of them, 1,072 patients have died so far.
There are approximately known cases of 14,000 HIV/AIDS patients in Bangladesh along with almost 5,055 unidentified patients. The government of Bangladesh spends Tk6,000 to Tk14,000 on treatment for each HIV/AIDS patient.
Role of drug addicts and expatriates in HIV/AIDS spread
It is a challenge stopping HIV/AIDS from spreading due to the presence of drug addicts and infected expatriates and their contributions to the malaise. More than 31 percent of infected patients are returnee expatriates. According to the health directorate, 23 districts in the country are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection, of which the number of patients is the highest in Chattogram and Sylhet. The number of patients who take the drug through injection is the highest in
Dhaka, with around 22 percent carrying the HIV/AIDS virus.
Besides, the Rohingya refugees can be a threat to Bangladesh if their HIV/AIDS infection is not controlled.
In a span of seven months, new 46 Rohingyas have been identified with the HIV virus. As per the information provided by the health-related journal Lancet, there were 273 HIV infected people in the Rohingya camp before 2018. In March this year, the number stood at 319. Of them, 19 died.
Dr Sayed Ahsan Towhid, a consultant at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, said, "Most of the HIV patients we handle are returnee expatriates. They are also transmitting the virus to their family members due to their ignorance and tendency to keep the problem a secret."
Professor Dr Samiul Islam, line director at TB-Leprosy and AIDS-STD at the health directorate, said, "The government is working to fight the spread of HIV. Treatment of HIV is available even at the upazila level. In the last one year, free HIV tests have been provided at 28 hospitals in 23 districts. Seventy training centres in different districts have been assigned to prepare an HIV-related curriculum under the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training. The trainers are being trained. Training has also been provided on how labourers can keep themselves safe while working abroad.
HIV/AIDS spread is not alarming
Though the number of HIV patients has been increasing every year, it is not alarming compared to the spread of the disease on the global scale. According to the World Health Organization, Bangladesh is a low HIV-prevalence country with less than 0.1 percent of the population estimated to be HIV-positive.
According to Dr Nazrul Islam, the HIV infection rate in Bangladesh is less than that in other countries around the world. Because of religious and social values, the number of HIV patients is less in Bangladesh. The expatriates who go abroad to work get infected because of their ignorance. As they repent after being infected, they do not spread the virus. Drug addicts who take drugs through injection are the biggest threat. If they do not share syringes with others, the risk of
HIV infection will be reduced.
Today is World AIDS Day. The theme of this year is "Communities make the difference".