HIV outbreak sparks panic in southern Pakistan

HIV outbreak sparks panic in southern Pakistan
In this image taken on May 9, 2019, a Pakistani paramedic takes a blood sample from a baby for a HIV test at a state-run hospital in Rato Dero in the district of Larkana of the southern Sindh province. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

HIV outbreak sparks panic in southern Pakistan

HIV outbreak sparks panic in southern Pakistan
  • Health officials say more than 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV positive
  • Anger and fear continue to swell in the desperately poor village hit hard by the epidemic

RATO DERO, Pakistan: Parents nervously watch as their children wait to be tested for HIV in a village in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of people have been allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe.
Dispatched to keep order, police scan the anxious crowd as families hustle into one of five different screening rooms set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo, on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province.
Health officials say more than 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV positive in recent weeks as experts warn of a surge in infection rates across Pakistan, due to the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice — often at the hands of quack doctors.
Anger and fear continue to swell in the desperately poor village hit hard by the epidemic, which authorities say could be linked to either gross negligence or malicious intent by a local pediatrician.




In this image taken on May 8, 2019, Pakistani women hold their HIV infected children as they gather at a house at Wasayo village in Rato Dero in the district of Larkana of the southern Sindh province. (AFP)


“They are coming by the dozens,” says a doctor at the makeshift clinic, beset by a lack of equipment and personnel to treat the surging number of patients.
Mukhtar Pervez waits anxiously to have her daughter tested, worrying a recent fever may be linked to the outbreak. For others, their worst fears have already become a reality.
Nisar Ahmed arrived at the clinic in a furious search for medicine after his one-year-old daughter tested positive three days earlier.
“I curse [the doctor] who has caused all these children to be infected,” he says angrily.
Nearby Imam Zadi accompanies five of her children to be examined after her grandson tested positive.
“The entire family is so upset,” she tells AFP.
Others worry their children’s futures have been irreparably harmed after contracting HIV, especially in a country whose masses of rural poor have little understanding of the disease or access to treatment.
“Who is she going to play with? And when she’s grown up, who would want to marry her?” asks a tearful mother from a nearby village, who asked not to named, of her four-year-old daughter who just tested positive.




In this image taken on May 8, 2019, a Pakistani paramedic takes a blood sample from a woman for a HIV test at a state-run hospital in Rato Dero in the district of Larkana of the southern Sindh province. (AFP)

Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers.
With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN.
Pakistan’s surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality health care following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners.
“According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across the country and around 270,000 are practicing in the province of Sindh,” said UNAIDS in a statement.
Provincial health officials have also noted that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses at these clinics, where injections are often pushed as a primary treatment option.
“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,” said Sikandar Memon, provincial program manager of the Sindh Aids Control Programme.
The large number of unqualified doctors along with the “reuse of syringes, unsafe blood transfusions, and other unsafe medical practices” have all led to the spike in HIV cases in recent years, explains Bushra Jamil, an expert on infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi.
“Rampant medical malpractices without any effective checks and balances are causing repeated outbreaks in Pakistan,” said Jamil.
Authorities investigating the outbreak in Sindh say the accused doctor has also tested positive for HIV.
From a ramshackle jail cell in the nearby city of Ratodero, he denied the charges and accusations he knowingly injected his patients with the virus, while complaining of being incarcerated with common criminals.
But for the parents of the newly diagnosed, the ongoing investigation means little if they are unable to secure access to better information and the necessary drugs that can help stave off the deadly AIDS virus.
“We are helpless. I have other children and I am afraid they might catch the disease,” says another mother whose daughter recently tested positive for HIV.
“[Please] send some medicine for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our children will die, right?“


Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in

Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in
Updated 21 June 2021

Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in

Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in
  • Nation of 220 million expected to receive over 6 million jabs next week to continue nationwide vaccination drive, health officials say
  • Vaccine shortage in Islamabad temporary, hopeful to overcome it in next 2-3 days, district health officer Islamabad says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government struck an optimistic tone on Sunday, hoping to overcome a COVID-19 vaccine shortage in various parts of the country, including in the capital city, Islamabad, with the arrival of over 6 million doses of the crucial jabs.

Health Chief Dr. Faisal Sultan said that while Pakistan had one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in stock, authorities were expecting 1.55 million doses on Sunday, 2.5 million doses on Tuesday, and another 2-3 million doses between June 23 and June 30.

“Therefore, any pressure in the system and local/distribution issues will be eased by Mon/Tue,” Dr. Sultan said in a Twitter post on Saturday.

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the federal body dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed the arrival of 1.55 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccines on Sunday.

“This is part of planned contracted quantity purchased from China,” the NCOC said in a statement.

“China as a time-tested friend of Pakistan, has taken special measures to ensure uninterrupted supply of vaccines to Pakistan. Another consignment of 2-3 million doses of Chinese vaccines will be reaching Pakistan next week,” it added.

Pakistan has been grappling with a vaccine shortage since Monday, especially in Islamabad and the southern Sindh province, where authorities have shut down nearly 40 percent of vaccination centers due to a scarcity of the COVID-19 jabs.

“This vaccine shortage is temporary and we are hopeful to overcome it in the next two to three days,” Dr. Zaeem Zia, a district health officer in Islamabad, told Arab News on Sunday

He added that the federal government would provide more vaccines by Monday to “ease the pressure on vaccination centers, especially in rural areas of Islamabad.”

Islamabad’s administration has vaccinated 52.7 percent or 580,000 of its population since February when the nationwide vaccination drive was launched, with plans to inoculate at least 1.1 million by the year-end.

“We have been successful in flattening the virus curve in Islamabad through restrictions and vaccination,” Zia said.

“We will have sufficient vaccine supplies in the next couple of days to achieve our target,” he added.

Since February, the South Asian nation of 220 million has procured around 14.5 million jabs from various sources, including COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization.

Pakistan has allocated $1.1 billion in the fiscal year 2022 to procure coronavirus vaccines from the international market to achieve herd immunity.

The government says it’s aiming to vaccinate between 45 million and 65 million people this year, with plans to inoculate 70 million people by next year.

So far, Pakistan has administered more than 13 million doses of the vaccine.     


Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg

Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg
Updated 19 June 2021

Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg

Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg
  • As the PSL's top scorer with 2,000 runs, Azam is followed by Peshawar Zalmi's Kamran Akmal with 1,763 runs
  • Azam on Saturday also became the first player to score 500 runs in a single edition of PSL

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan captain Babar Azam became the first player to cross the 2,000-run mark in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) during a Karachi Kings vs Quetta Gladiators faceoff in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
During the same match, Azam also became the first player to score 500 runs in a single edition of PSL, as he scored 23 off 25 against Quetta Gladiators, taking his PSL6 tally to 501.
"#King #BabarAzam the 1st batsman in the history of #HBLPSL to score 2000 runs," Karachi Kings celebrated its batsman in a tweet.

 

 

The sixth edition of Pakistan’s flagship cricket super league tournament resumed at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on June 9. It was postponed in March after a string of positive coronavirus cases among players and officials.
As the PSL's top scorer, Azam is followed by Peshawar Zalmi's Kamran Akmal who has scored 1,763 runs.
Born in Lahore, the 26-year-old right-hand, top-order batsman was 12 when he already played serious tape-ball cricket. At age 15, he was declared Pakistan's best Under-15 batsman and made his List A debut.  
By 16, he was a first-class cricketer for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) cricket team. By the time he received his first ODI cap, he already had six centuries and more than 2,000 List A runs at an average of 47.88 to his name.
In September 2018, Azam passed 2,000 runs in ODI cricket, reaching the milestone in just 45 innings. Only one player has ever gotten there quicker and that is South African great Hashim Amla. Amla took just 40 innings.
In the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Azam made history, scoring 474 runs at 67.61 to break Javed Miandad’s 1992 record for the most runs by a Pakistan batsman in a Cricket World Cup campaign.
In April, he ended Virat Kohli’s long reign at the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings, becoming only the fourth batsman from his country to attain number one position in the rankings.


Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East
Updated 04 June 2021

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East
  • TAG Innovation plans to launch the country’s first digital retail bank after functioning as an electronic money institution for a substantial period
  • The company also intends to offer its services to Pakistan’s largest diaspora community in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year to facilitate foreign remittances

KARACHI: An Islamabad-based fintech firm is all set to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of the month that will help the country’s population open digital accounts and enjoy cross-border payment facility, the company’s top official said on Friday.
“We are planning to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of June,” Talal Ahmed Gondal, cofounder and chief executive officer of TAG Innovation, said while talking to Arab News. “Our intention is to target women and youth in the first marketing phase who don’t have access to formal bank accounts.”
“In the next stage, TAG plans to launch Pakistan’s first digital bank,” he continued, adding that his organization would operate as an electronic money institution (EMI) for now and offer relevant services to the intended target market.
“The app will enable users to open digital accounts within three minutes,” Gondal explained. “The users will then be able to make peer-to-peer transfers, dispatch money to bank accounts, pay utility bills and recharge their mobile credit. Their phone number will also be their account number.”
The fintech startup has been authorized by the State Bank of Pakistan to operate as an EMI and is launching its pilot phase.
TAG recently closed $5.5 million in a pre-seed round led by venture capitals from the United States, including Quiet Capital Management and Liberty City Ventures. Other participants were Fatima Gobi Ventures, Unpopular Ventures as well as strategic investors like Visa and Angels Investors, the TAG chief informed.
The funding round makes it the largest ever pre-seed in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region. The position was previously held by an Egyptian fintech, Telda, which raised $5 million, according to the data compiled by various venture capital institutions.
Gondal said Pakistan was among the difficult markets for funding since the economic ecosystem was still not mature for the purpose.
“In the US, it would have taken us a maximum of five weeks, but it took us five months here to generate the funding,” he said, though he also recognized that Pakistani market was still untapped with a huge potential.
The TAG chief said his company would utilize the funding for its commercial launch and to expand its outreach in the Middle East to facilitate remittance inflows and cross-border payments.
“We will Initially launch our services in Pakistan but offer them in the Middle East by the end of the year,” he said, adding that TAG wanted to begin the process from Saudi Arabia by hiring a local team since that was where “the highest number of expat Pakistanis live.”
“The funds will be transferred between Saudi and Pakistani TAG accounts within a minute at a very low rate,” he continued while pointing out that the facility would be offered with the help of Saudi banks.
Gondal said that large number of women and youth, particularly students, did not have access to formal banking channels.
“Existing players are mainly targeting lower income segments, but we will offer services to all income groups as the first B2C operator across Pakistan,” he said, adding: “The farming community will also be tapped to receive or make payments for wheats or subsidies.”
According to the World Bank, Pakistan has the third largest unbanked adult population in the world with about 100 million people without their own accounts.
“There are 60 million total bank accounts in Pakistan out of which unique accounts are estimated at 20 million,” Muhammad Sohail, chief executive officer of Topline Securities, said. “About 70 percent of Pakistan’s adult population lacks access to bank accounts.”
According to Pakistan’s central bank, the country has a low volume of electronic transactions due to low banking penetration, lack of trust and awareness related to digital payment methods, limited interoperability and high cost of transactions.


Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies
Updated 04 June 2021

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan recalled fast bowlers Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah on Friday for the two test matches against the West Indies and named uncapped batsman Azam Khan for the Twenty20s.
Abbas was not considered for the last two test series against South Africa and Zimbabwe, but made his way back into the side after his impressive performances in the English County Championship.
“Mohammad Abbas has regained his form, (while) Naseem Shah and Haris Sohail have reclaimed the required fitness standards,” chief selector Mohammad Wasim said.
“This is an extremely important and critical tour for Pakistan as we will be playing the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League ODIs against England as well as the T20Is against England and the West Indies as part of our preparations for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. The test matches in Jamaica will count towards the ICC world test championship.”
Pakistan is scheduled to play three Twenty20s and as many ODIs against England next month before flying out to the Caribbean for five Twenty20s and two test matches.
Khan, the son of former Pakistan test captain Moin Khan, has impressed the selectors with his power-hitting in the Pakistan Super League and was included for the Twenty20s.
Sohail, a middle-order batsman, was recalled for the ODIs in England after missing the last limited-overs series in South Africa.
All-rounder Imad Wasim, who has been ignored for the last three Twenty20 series, returned to the side as Pakistan eyed the Twenty20 World Cup.
Experienced test leg-spinner Yasir Shah was named in the squad, but his availability depends on his recovery from a knee injury which sidelined him for the two test matches in Zimbabwe. The selectors have retained another leg-spinner, Zahid Mahmood, left-arm spinner Nauman Ali, and off-spinner Sajid Khan as part of their plans for the two test matches in the West Indies.

SQUADS

ODIs: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi and Usman Qadir.
Twenty20: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Arshad Iqbal, Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Afridi, Sharjeel Khan and Usman Qadir.
Tests: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Abdullah Shafique, Abid Ali (Central Punjab), Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imran Butt, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wicketkeeper), Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Yasir Shah (subject to fitness) and Zahid Mahmood.


Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks
Updated 20 May 2021

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks
  • Foreign Minister Qureshi calls upon UN General Assembly to hold Israel accountable for 'war crimes'
  • UN chief says ‘deeply shocked’ by continued air and artillery bombardment by Israeli forces in Gaza

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday urged the United Nations General Assembly to deploy an international protection force to safeguard Palestinians against Israeli aggression and take urgent steps to ensure a cessation of hostilities in the area.

Since the crisis began on May 10, Palestinian health officials say 228 people have been killed in Israeli aerial bombardments that have worsened Gaza’s already dire humanitarian situation. Israeli authorities put the death toll to date at 12 in Israel.

“We should deploy an international protection force that was called for in the General Assembly resolution ES10/20 and as demanded by the Islamic Summit Conference on 18 May 2018,” Qureshi said while addressing a special UNGA session in New York.

The foreign minister reached New York on Wednesday evening on a Palestine peace mission to attend a UNGA emergency meeting called by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League.

Qureshi called upon the General Assembly to take concrete steps to protect the people of Palestine and hold Israel accountable for its "war crimes."

“If the Security Council cannot agree to send the protection force, a coalition of the willing can be formed to provide at least civilian observers to monitor a cessation of hostilities and supervise the provision of humanitarian help to Palestinians,” he said. 

“Israel’s crimes against humanity should not escape accountability,” he added. “There should be no impunity for violation of international law.” 

So far, over 50,000 Palestinians have been rendered homeless in the Gaza Strip where they already have limited access to water, food and health services.

The foreign minister urged the international community to mobilize all possible humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian population in Gaza and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Israel must open all access points to Gaza to ensure timely and urgent delivery of international assistance,” he said. “The voice of the Palestinian people cannot and will not be silenced.”

“It is appalling that the Security Council has been unable to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” Qureshi said, adding that the Council had even failed to demand a cessation of hostilities.

“Those preventing the Council from doing so bear a heavy responsibility,” he added.

Qureshi said the international community must not fail the Palestinian people at such a critical juncture.

“Our first priority must be to halt the Israeli aggression,” he noted. “Let’s be clear: There is no military equivalence between the beleaguered and occupied Palestinian people … and the Israeli war machine, one of the most powerful in the world.”

“This is a war between a military occupier and an occupied people,” Qureshi said. 

The minister said there was a need to implement the UNGA and Security Council resolutions for a “viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital.” 

Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel and Palestinians to call an immediate ceasefire and pledged to launch a full humanitarian appeal for funding.

“The past ten days have witnessed a dangerous and horrific surge in deadly violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly Gaza, and in Israel,” Guterres told the special UNGA session. “I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli defense forces in Gaza.”