Daily Times Editorial 2 December 2019

AIDS Day and new realities

This year, the World AIDS Day is really important for Pakistan after the discovery of a number of HIV/AIDS cases in the town of Ratodero in Sindh. Media’s attention and public reaction to the cases was a powerful reminder of the apathy of successive governments and our society towards the global epidemic, for which so far no cure has been found. Earlier, the World AIDS Day was hardly acknowledged in Pakistan as the people would regard HIV/AIDS as a sub-Saharan African problem or a remote disease. Our continuous disregard to the disease and precautionary ignorance has delivered it at our doorstep. Now is the need of the hour to inform the public that the epidemic, which has millions as positive cases, can be contained as medical discoveries have let the people tested positive to live longer, healthier lives. Many people tested HIV/AIDS positive have been outcast by communities in different areas of Pakistan because of social stigma of being infected. Pakistan lacks data on deaths from the infectious killer but worldwide, HIV/AIDS remains the leading life taker. According to UNAID, there are 160,000 HIV positive people in Pakistan, and they are those who are registered with the state-run AIDS control programme. The number could be worse as many even do not know if they are infected or not, thanks to prevailing ignorance about the disease and the shortage of testing and screening facilities across the country. It is time the disease is tackled so that a new generation remains safe from the infectious catastrophe.
The discovery of 320 cases in Punjab districts in October alone emphasises the fact that a mass screening needs to be held across Pakistan as each of us should know our HIV/AIDS status. Similarly, each of us needs to play our due role in educating those communities about the lurking danger who may not know the deadly scale of the infectious killer. Also, our medical communities also should do research and collaborate with international bodies working on finding possible ways to manage the disease. No one is sure about when a cure to the disease will be found, until then only precautionary measures can save people. Those tested positive should not be tagged, instead they should be treated as normal people.


Curbing air pollution


After a long time, Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed a press conference on Saturday in Lahore, and instead of taking up sundry issues, he remained focused on a single, and arguably the most pressing issue of the city – smog and air pollution. He announced several concrete measures to stem the tide of smog, in particular, and air pollution, in general, in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the two provinces hard-hit by air pollution. The main actions his government has planned to control air pollution include: only the oil meeting European Union’s Euro four emission levels will be imported, while within a year Euro five emission oil will be the standard oil in the country; local oil refineries will be given three years to upgrade plants to produce Euro four and five oil; electric vehicles will replace the existing auto industry and all buses will either be hybrid, electric or CNG-based; imported machinery will be provided to farmers to deal with rice stubble to discourage burning them; brick kiln owners will be assisted to turn to zigzag technology; steel mills will be helped to buy scrubbers at affordable rates by removing duties on them so air pollution from steel factories can be curbed; and last but not least Lahore will grow urban forests on over 60,000 kanals. This is a long list of measures, all doable and the need of the hour to tackle pollutants plaguing cities and rural localities.
The government has woken up to the intensity of the choking pollution level after Punjab was forced to shut schools on two occasions. Smog is not a Lahore-alone issue. Neighbouring Delhi, Tehran, and Beijing have all been under heavy toxic layers of smog for several years. Tehran, cloaked by smog, has shut down schools and universities after increased air pollution made it difficult for students to go outdoors. The intensity of the pollution threat, however, also requires short-term steps to lower the pollution level, and those could be the implementation of the Punjab Smog Commission recommendations. That deals with the closure of brick kilns and carbon-emitting factories besides enforcing a ban on crop burning in local farms. Several experts argue that smog is a locally made problem. The most comforting point, however, is that the government is taking air pollution very seriously and the prime minister himself unveiled anti-pollution measures. If these plans are implemented in letter and spirit, it will be the best gift by the government to the public.

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