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‘Ratodero HIV outbreak a wake-up call for entire country’

Updated June 15, 2019

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Of the 27,300 people screened so far in Larkana’s Ratodero taluka, 803 people including 661 children have been tested HIV positive. — Reuters/File
Of the 27,300 people screened so far in Larkana’s Ratodero taluka, 803 people including 661 children have been tested HIV positive. — Reuters/File

KARACHI: Of the 27,300 people screened so far in Larkana’s Ratodero taluka, 803 people including 661 children have been tested HIV positive. This outbreak is mainly caused by medical malpractices including reuse of [contaminated] syringes and drip kits.

This information was shared by experts on Friday at a presser which followed a debriefing session on the HIV outbreak in Larkana by a WHO [World Health Organisation] investigating team to government officials.

The meeting was also attended by federal health advisor and officials of WHO Pakistan, UNAIDS, Unicef and other local and international representatives of various donor agencies and organisations.

“The HIV outbreak in Ratodero must not be politicised and be taken as a wake-up call for the entire country,” said Health Advisor to the Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza at the press conference which he addressed along with provincial Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho, WHO official Dr Oliver Morgan and UNAIDS’ Dr Eamonn Murphy.

“The underlying causes of all blood-borne infections including HIV as well as Hepatitis B and C are not restricted to Sindh but are similar across the country and require concerted efforts with focus on prevention,” he said, hinting at the recent alarming surge in the HIV/AIDS cases in five districts of Punjab

Dr Mirza on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan said the federal government stood with the people of Sindh and was committed to assist provincial authorities in addressing the challenge.

The federal government, he noted, would provide Sindh all needed support and assistance to address health-related challenges. At the current point of time, however, there was need for paediatric solutions in terms of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for children infected with HIV.

Referring to the findings of the international team of experts about the causes of HIV outbreak in Ratodero, Dr Mirza said hypothesis had reconfirmed the initial observation attributing the outbreak to reused syringes and infected needles.

The situation demanded regulatory intervention, administrative measures to streamline therapeutic approach coupled with behavioural changes at the community level, he observed.

“The provincial health minister has just shared with you the steps taken in the province and we hope that this would work,” he commented, adding that provincial healthcare commissions should work in a coordinated manner.

In reply to a question, he said many of the pharmaceutical companies in the country producing antiviral drugs were expected to come forward with ARV preparations with needed modifications.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho shared in detail the steps taken by the provincial government to address the challenge encompassing strengthening and activation of the provincial health commission to address the menace of quackery and reported misuse of licenses issued to qualified medical practitioners.

The department also issued a press release later in the day which says, “The WHO team spent the last 15 days in Larkana investigating the reasons for the recent HIV outbreak. After thorough investigation, it was found that the HIV spread was mainly due to malpractices by medical officials who were reusing syringes and drip kits.”

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019