SARGODHA: First it was the kidney scandal which had brought Sargodha in the national limelight in the 90s and early 2000s.

Now, the reports of diagnosis of 869 people as the carriers of HIV/AIDS in the last 10 years in four districts of Sargodha division have brought the government’s attention towards this area.

According to the Punjab AIDS Control Programme data, at the HIV/AIDS treatment centre at the Sargodha District Headquarters Hospital, quacks have been spreading the disease over the year.

Centre In Charge Dr Sikandar Warraich told Dawn the centre had been operating since 2008 providing free treatment and screening to the patients.

He said that in Kot Imrana village of Sargodha, illegal doctor Allah Ditta, alias Haji, would use used syringes on multiple patients in the village. He died last year leaving 37 AIDS/HIV victims in Kot Imrana and other surrounding villages.

He said that earlier 21 people from village Kot Imrana were registered with the centre. In October last, a centre team got samples of over 300 villagers where another 16 people were tested positive for HIV/AIDS.

Dr Warraich says they are trying to provide proper counseling about the disease and motivating the people to get their blood work done.

Earlier, reports attributed to village elder Chaudhry Akram were doing the rounds that more than 250 people of Kot Imrana had been tested positive for HIV/AIDS in the last one and a half year.

Dr Warraich, however, puts the number at 37.

He said the main cause of the disease was 5,000 quakes who were still working in Sargodha district and were using syringes on multiple patients while barbers would use a single razor on more than one customers. Similarly, dentists by roadside were another contributors.

He said unless these quacks, barbers and dentists were not checked in all parts of the district, the number of the carriers would continue going up.

AIDS claimed a million lives in 2016, almost half the 2005 toll that marked the peak of the deadly epidemic, according to a UN report published on July 20, 2017.

Dr Warraich said most of the carriers of HIV/AIDS were females and children, and ironically the females were reluctant to get treatment because of social taboos attached with the infection.

He added the government could not force anyone into screening, however, the PACP had launched an awareness campaign in the villages about the importance of screening.

Muhammad Aslam was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS one year ago.

He said the he himself got examined one year ago. He remembers the day, when he got the shock of the life. He says since that day he has been using the anti HIV/AIDS drugs but instead of any recovery, he is facing liver related complications and pain in the stomach.

He said though the number of carriers as mentioned by the village elder might be exaggerated, the Health Department must carry out the screening of every resident of the village, especially of all females and children.

He said that the first carrier of HIV/AIDS was detected some 15 years back and it was Haji, the quack, who is considered responsible for spreading the infection to many villagers.

Kot Imrana is in Kot Momin, the area, where from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has contested elections. His party men are accusing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf activists of exaggerating the figure of HIV/AIDS victims. Commissioner Nadeem Mehboob and Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Liaqat Ali Chatha took notice of the reports and direction from Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that the villagers be tested.

They held a meeting with health department officials and decided to launch a campaign against quackery besides mobilizing the people for HIV/AIDS screening.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2018