THE detection of serious blood-borne diseases — hepatitis B & C and HIV — in a number of haemophilic teenagers in Karachi yet again highlights the dire need for regulation of the healthcare sector in the country. The cases surfaced during a screening camp organised by the Haemophilia Welfare Society in collaboration with the Sindh government. Out of the 242 patients screened in the first couple of days, as many as 96 — or a staggering 40pc — tested positive for HIV and hepatitis B & C. Though all three viral illnesses are prevalent in Pakistan, with the country carrying the second-largest disease burden of hepatitis C globally, their detection in haemophiliacs, who often have to get blood transfusions, should be cause for great alarm. On the one hand, it indicates that a large number of blood banks resort to unsafe and substandard methods and kits for screening blood. On the other, the high number of blood-borne diseases casts doubt on the performance of the Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority and the provincial government’s communicable diseases programme.
The prevalence of unsafe medical practices has been a long-standing problem in Pakistan, so much so that the WHO states that most hepatitis B & C patients contract the virus in clinics or hospitals. One case had surfaced in Islamabad in 2017, where two haemophilic siblings, aged seven and eight, had contracted HIV through blood transfusion at a private hospital. Similarly, who can forget the HIV/AIDS outbreak among children in Larkana, caused by the reuse of syringes by a careless, ill-informed and unscrupulous ‘doctor’. The authorities need to wake up to the high human, financial, social and emotional cost of the absence of regulation of the health sector where unsafe medical practices proliferate. Not only should the government plan a robust campaign to crack down on and punish unqualified ‘doctors’ and quacks, errant nursing staff, dubious blood banks and other healthcare providers and services, it should also ensure that those infected because of clinical negligence receive free medical treatment.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2022