KARACHI: Health Minister Azra Pechuho informed the house on Thursday that a quack impersonating as a doctor had been arrested after a case was registered against him for using used syringes in Larkana district that caused the lethal Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection in 15 children.
The number of children in the same area then swelled to 67 when the government teams launched a community screening drive in the affected areas of Ratodero and Naudero. In addition to them, 26 adults were also found infected with HIV.
Delivering her ministry’s policy statement during the Sindh Assembly’s session with Speaker Siraj Durrani in the chair, Dr Pechuho said after receiving reports of HIV affecting so many children in Larkana district, a team comprising specialists and officials had been sent to Ratodero and Naudero, where it was confirmed that at least 15 children fell prey to the deadly infection because of the use of used syringes by a local quack.
“All those children — aged two months to eight years — were being taken to a single doctor practising in the area. That doctor was using a single drip kit and a single injection on all those children,” said the minister.
67 of the 93 people screened and tested positive for HIV are children
She said the investigation report was extremely disturbing for the authorities and her ministry, which warranted “us to launch similar inquiries in other districts of Sindh”.
She said though it was hard to screen everyone for HIV in the province, as a pre-emptive measure the authorities had asked the relevant officials to go for community screening in various parts of the province so that no further damage to innocent lives could be inflicted by such practitioners and laboratories.
The minister said a team of the World Health Organisation also reached the district, which traced the HIV virus and found that those children were aged between two months to eight years.
Besides, an inspection of the doctors who were practising in the affected region was also carried out and that led the investigation team to trace the doctor to whom all those 15 children had been brought by their families. The inspection of the equipment being used by that doctor proved how callously he was working at his clinic, the house was told.
She said some 93 people were tested positive for HIV in the affected areas during the community screening, of whom 67 were children.
The minister said the ministry had given clear directives to the Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC) to take action against the quacks who were rampantly present in society.
Hyderabad declared high-risk area for HIV/AIDS
She said Hyderabad was a high-risk area for HIV/AIDS in the province, while the authorities were taking action against blood banks and laboratories being run without fulfilling the required specifications.
Some 20 such laboratories and clinics had been sealed in Ratodero and Naudero.
Besides, she added, the local authorities had launched an awareness drive in the district to ask the people to save themselves from quacks.
Parents test negative
During the community screening in Larkana, said the minister, the parents of the affected children were also examined and their tests returned negative.
She said required medicines had been sent to the district authorities for curing those children while five blood banks had been authorised to take care of them.
“We have made paediatric facilities available in those areas and more such facilities were being set up there. Besides, an ambulance is dedicated for these children to pick and drop them at the health facilities in Larkana city.”
Leader of the Opposition Firdous Naqvi said the statement furnished by the minister clearly showed that the relevant authorities had failed to take timely measures, waiting for the tragedy to happen. He demanded that strict action be taken against the officials who did not succeed in curbing quackery.
Responding to a calling-attention notice by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Heer Soho about an unbearable increase in drug prices, the health minister said it was the federal government which fixed prices for drugs.
She said the drug prices had phenomenally increased across the country, which had gravely impacted the common man, but Islamabad had failed to control such prices.
She said the Sindh government was in consultation with the federal government on the issue, but the latter was not addressing its concerns.
In response to a calling-attention notice by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Arsalan Taj, Education Minister Sardar Shah conceded that his ministry had failed to curb cheating in examinations for matriculation and intermediate “due to a shortage of funds”.
The minister said all-out measures had been adopted to stop the ‘curse’ of cheating, saying the department had shown greater seriousness than before.
“We had a plan to conduct examinations in open grounds instead of inside schools or colleges. We have approached the finance department as we were short of funds to install cameras, mobile phone jammers and other necessities in open grounds. But we could not implement our plan as the Centre has not yet released our share and we are short of resources,” he said.
Later, three government bills — The Sindh Public Finance Administration Bill, 2019; The Abdul Majeed Bhurgri Institute of Language Engineering Bill, 2019; and The Aror University of Art, Architecture, Design and Heritage, Sukkur, Bill, 2019 — were introduced in the house. They all were sent to the relevant standing committees to get them further examined.
Earlier, the house was running smoothly when a PTI member rose and claimed that quorum was not complete. The chair counted the members and ordered resumption of the proceedings after the required number of lawmakers was present.
Opposition leader Naqvi asked the chair to adjourn the house as the time was up but Speaker Durrani said the business was still there.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Chawla said the PTI members should realise that they were sitting in the Sindh Assembly and not in the National Assembly. He added that the PTI lawmakers were deliberately disrupting the house by raising non-issues.
The opposition members, however, followed their leader to walk out of the house barring PTI’s Aslam Abro, who stayed back to speak on a calling-attention notice.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2019