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Afghan drugs a
worry as Pakistanis confront AIDS

Afghan drugs a
worry as Pakistanis confront AIDS

Afghanistan's booming opium trade is a huge concern for Pakistan as it confronts the spread of HIV, especially among intravenous drug users, Pakistan's minister of health said on Wednesday.

Pakistan recorded its first case of HIV infection in 1987, and the number of confirmed cases is now 3,556--more than 300 of whom have developed AIDS--but experts say the true figure could be many times higher.

Health minister Mohammad Naseer Khan said Pakistan was a low-prevalence but high-risk country when it came to HIV.

The government was already committed to the fight against the disease, but efforts had to be intensified to tackle Afghanistan's booming output of opium--the raw material for heroin, he said.

"We are committed for a strong program to combat HIV/AIDS, especially the [injection drug] users," Khan told a news conference.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes said recently that Afghanistan's opium harvest had set a record this year, with production 50% higher than last year.

"Today, in Afghanistan you have the highest production of opium to date. Ten years ago it nearly reached zero," said Khan, who attended a U.N. meeting on injection drug use and HIV on Wednesday. "So that's a huge concern for Pakistan. More has to be done by the government of Afghanistan and also all the donor agencies and coalition forces to stop that production."

The United Nations had asked Afghanistan's NATO security force to do something about the drug problem, a senior U.N. official said. "The U.N. is very much concerned," Jan Vandemoortele, U.N. resident coordinator in Pakistan, told the news conference. "Our program of poppy eradication, of course, is not yielding the results required."

Khan said public information was also vital in the fight against AIDS. "We don't have to be pornographic about HIV/AIDS, but we must tell our children what it is and how to stay away from it," he said. "In Pakistan we do not shy away from our responsibilities; it is affecting our children also.... We have a very strong program in the country. We are reaching out to IDUs." (Reuters)

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