Afghanistan Has ‘First-Ever’ HIV/AIDS Scare; Observers Say Panic is Byproduct of Increased International ContactAfghanistan experienced its "first-ever HIV scare" last week when rumors suggested that syringes made in Pakistan had been purposely tainted with the virus, the Boston Globe reports. Health officials have not found any evidence of tampering or any trace of the virus, but they continue to test syringes daily. Experts said that contamination was "extraordinarily unlikely" because HIV does not live long after being exposed to air. The strong reaction to the rumors was most likely "a byproduct of Afghanistan's two decades of isolation from the world" and Afghans' "enmity toward Pakistan," the Globe reports. Mohammad Asaf Gardezi, senior field officer in Kabul for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he "understand[s]" the panic. "We should be concerned about HIV/AIDS because of the number of people coming in and going out of our country, plus considering the sexual frustration of the people here. But what's the benefit for Pakistan to send contaminated needles? Nothing. It would be dangerous for them to do it. Borders don't stop diseases," he said. Dr. Abdullah Fahim, the Health Ministry's director of international relations, said that many doctors were concerned the needles "might be one of the tricks from Al Qaeda to create fear among the people" in Afghanistan. Afghanistan experienced "many cases" of poisoned mangoes after the Soviets withdrew from the country, and officials are fearful of a similar attempt at poisoning, he added.
Lack of Knowledge
Dr. Mohammad Hekmat, manager of the Central Blood Bank, noted that the threat of HIV in Afghanistan is particularly troublesome because people, including health professionals, have little knowledge about the disease. "Even one of our doctors thought syringes could be used for one person over and over. ... Now, try to imagine what the common people think. They never heard of HIV," he said. Afghanistan recorded six HIV/AIDS cases in 2001 and has not recorded any so far this year. Health experts estimate that the actual number of HIV cases is higher but say that it still remains among the lowest in the world, largely because of the country's "conservative" sexual traditions and its limited contact with the outside world during more than 20 years of war. However, cases could increase as refugees return from Pakistan and Afghans establish greater contact with the outside world (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 5/22).