The Larkana district of Pakistan's Sindh province has reported over 400 cases of HIV positive tests in the past two weeks. About 80 per cent of the patients reportedly are children under the age of five years. People are reporting to various public health camps amid the widespread panic and nearly 90,000 people have been screened so far.
The United Nations and the provincial government have joined hands and rushed doctors as well as public health workers to the area, which has a population of 1.5 million people. According to reports, unsafe medical practice by a local doctor who used a syringe to inject multiple children is the root cause of the HIV outbreak.
UNAIDS spokesperson Fahmida Khan told Voice of America that there may be similar cases being reported from surrounding districts even as all efforts are being made to curb the usage of unsafe injections and blood transfusions.
Pakistan's HIV dilemma
The sudden spurt of HIV cases in Pakistan, which had relatively lesser number of such cases until the last decade, poses a new health challenge to the government as well as the health officials. Experts said that there has been a 57 per cent increase in HIV cases in the country since 2010 with Sindh contributing to a majority of such infections. About 43 per cent of the HIV cases have been reported from this region alone.
Around 20,000 people had tested positive for HIV in Pakistan last year and more than 6,200 people died due to the advanced stage of the disease, AIDS.
Who is to blame for the HIV outbreak?
The negligence on the part of the Pakistani government towards the healthcare sector has a large role to play in the crisis. The recent steps by the government for abolishing the federal health ministry, little allocation of funds towards the sector and corruption have left the underprivileged sections of the society vulnerable to quacks and unqualified medical practitioners. There are reportedly 600,000 quacks operating in the country with 200,000 being present in Sindh, the UN stated.
These quacks are reusing syringes and carrying out unsafe blood transfusion under the garb of treating people which has further worsened the problem. Their malpractices have also gone unchecked so far.
"For the sake of saving money, these quacks will inject multiple patients with a single syringe. This could be the main cause of the spread of HIV cases," Sikandar Memon, provincial programme manager of the Sindh Aids Control Programme, told news asia.com.