Pakistan province struggles with hundreds of cases of children infected with HIV

Pakistan province struggles with hundreds of cases of children infected with HIV

Pakistan province struggles with hundreds of cases of children infected with HIV

Written by Staff Writer

31 May, 2019 | 10:30 am

REUTERS: In the dusty town of Ratodero in southern Pakistan, doctors are struggling to cope with an alarming outbreak of young patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with almost 700 of new cases over the past few months, most of them children.

But many of the families cannot afford proper treatment, which usually involves regular trips to Karachi for medicines. “I have sold all my valuables for treatment,” said Tariq Ali, from Allah Dino Seelro, a small village in Ratodero, who was himself diagnosed as HIV positive last year. His sister died of AIDS and his wife and daughter are HIV positive. A nephew was diagnosed HIV positive a few days ago.

Some families like Nazeer Husain Shah, whose 16 month-old infant girl was diagnosed HIV positive in February, could not fathom how the virus managed to infect their loved ones. “At first I got furious. For me it was impossible to imagine that she was suffering from such a disease,” he said.

Officials suspect quack medical practitioners, who are widespread in poor towns and villages across Pakistan, of reusing syringes and providing improperly screened blood transfusions. He (doctor) used to apply same drip on fifty children without changing the needle,” said Imitaz Ali, a father who lost his 14 month-old daughter while his two children were tested HIV positive. Unable to seek proper medical help, he blamed a quack practitioner for treating the children “like animals”.

From April 25 to May 25, 2019, federal health ministry officials say 681 people have tested positive for HIV, of whom 537 were children. “This is a tip of the iceberg,” Dr Imran Akbar Arbani said in his small clinic, crowded with patients, “this (number) could be in the thousands, not hundreds,” he added.

Pakistani officials estimate the country has some 163,000 HIV and AIDS patients, of whom only 25,000 are registered with the provincial and federal AIDS control programs, according to Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s adviser on health But the experience of medical workers in Ratodero, in Larkana, the base of the powerful Bhutto political dynasty in Sindh province, suggest that the real numbers may be unknown.

The federal government has asked for help from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Foreign medical teams are in the country and the government has ordered 50,000 HIV kits and is setting up three treatment centres around Larkana. The cases underline the dire state of healthcare in Pakistan, a nation of 208 million where almost a third of the population lives on under $3.20 a day and where many people cannot afford expensive tests or medicines.

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