More than 500 people have been tested positive for HIV in southern Pakistan during an outbreak attributed to a rogue pediatrician by local authorities.
Nearly 14,000 people have now been screened in the district located outside Larkana, where the peak of HIV incidence has been detected for the first time, said Dr. Sikandar Memon, regional coordinator of the AIDS Program.
Dr. Memon told the Pakistani newspaper 410 of these HIV-positive patients. Dawn. He added that another 29 patients had tested positive in the latest round of blood tests conducted Wednesday at the main hospital in Rato Dero, 25 km from Larkana, considered the center of the epidemic.
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A doctor accused of infecting his patients through the repeated use of a single contaminated syringe remains in detention since the outbreak began in late April. Dr. Muzaffar Ghangharo, who according to the authorities lives with HIV himself, was charged but denied the allegations.
The authorities also do not rule out the possibility that the epidemic is the result of gross and widespread neglect in a region with a high prevalence of questionable medical practices.
UNAids said international partner organizations had joined local teams to try to contain and investigate the epidemic. In a statement, he said there are concerns that some 600,000 unskilled doctors are operating illegally in Pakistan, including 270,000 in Sindh province, where Larkana is located.
The epidemic also draws attention to the lack of HIV awareness and education among the predominantly poor communities of this part of Sindh.
Parents demanded screening tests for their children and drugs for HIV-positive people. "They arrive by the dozens," said a doctor in a makeshift clinic created to try to cope with the situation.
"We are helpless. I have other children and I fear that they will contract the disease, "told AFP a mother whose daughter had recently been tested positive for HIV.
"[Please] send medicine for our children so that they can be healed. Otherwise, all our children will die, right?
The UN said Pakistan now has the second fastest rate of HIV growth in Asia, with about 20,000 new infections in 2017 alone.
Dr. Maria Elena G Filio Borromeo, UNIDO Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan, went to Larkana to assess the response to this outbreak.
She asked why the first reports of an increase in the number of HIV cases came from local media and not from established official surveillance processes.
Dr. Borromeo said that children as young as two months old were affected by the epidemic and that they would be grappling with the consequences for the rest of their lives. The UN Global Fund will stop paying antiretroviral therapy in Pakistan by December 2020, leaving the local government to bear the costs.
These outbreaks will continue as long as "the practice of reusing needles, unsafe injections and blood transfusions is common throughout the country," she told The News Pakistan. "The UN is ready to bring experts from abroad and introduce best practices … but local authorities [must] prepare medium- and long-term strategies to prevent such outbreaks in the future, "she said.