Pakistan town struggles with surge in HIV infections

A medical worker draws blood for a HIV test at the free medical camp in Ratodero, Pakistan. (Reuters)
Updated 31 May 2019

Pakistan town struggles with surge in HIV infections

  • Health officials suspect the outbreak is linked to reused syringes and needles and improperly screened blood transfusions
  • Pakistan has some 163,000 HIV and AIDS patients

RATODERO, Pakistan: Doctors in a town in Pakistan are struggling to cope with a surge in patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with nearly 700 cases since April, most of them children.
Health officials suspect the outbreak is linked to reused syringes and needles and improperly screened blood transfusions.
“For me it was impossible to imagine,” said Nazeer, recalling the day a doctor said his 16-month-old girl had tested positive for HIV.
“I told him ‘are you joking with me, how can she have HIV?’,” he said in his home in Ratodero, 480 km from Karachi, the capital of the southern province of Sindh.
His daughter is receiving treatment, he said, adding he did not know how she was infected.
Health officials say 681 people have tested positive for HIV in Ratodero, of whom 537 are children, since April 25.
More than 21,00 people have taken an HIV test at Ratodero’s only screening center in a government hospital. Others have been tested at private clinics.
“I have identified the tip of the iceberg. This could be in the thousands, not hundreds,” said Dr. Imran Akbar Arbani, who operates a clinic in the town in Lakarna district.
About 60 percent of Ratodero patients were infected by reused needles and syringes, or through transfusions of blood that were not screened properly for HIV, said Dr. Sikander Memon, head of the AIDS control program in the province.
Police and doctors conducted an initial investigation and found that 123 HIV patients had been treated by one doctor before they were infected.
Dr. Muzaffar Ghanghro was arrested on April 30 and has been charged with unintentional murder, police said.
“Negligence and carelessness of Dr. Muzaffar Ghanghro has been the prime reason behind the spread of HIV at the later stage,” the investigation team said in a report.
Reuters was not permitted to contact Ghangro in jail and was not able to contact his lawyer.
Imtiaz, a laborer, said he had taken his three children to Ghangro because there was no pediatrician in town. All three became infected with HIV.
“He applied the same drip on 50 children without changing the needle,” he said.
Pakistan has some 163,000 HIV and AIDS patients, of whom only 25,000 are registered with provincial and federal AIDS control programs, said Zafar Mirza, a health adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
At Pakistan’s request, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have sent a team of experts to the area. They are expected to visit Ratodero on Friday.
“They will carry out a proper investigation into how this outbreak too place,” Mirza told reporters. “I hope in the coming few weeks we will know the reasons.”
The government has ordered 50,000 HIV screening kits and is setting up three treatment centers. Adult patients are receiving anti-retroviral drugs and medicines have been ordered for children, Mirza said.
The Ratodero cases underscore the dire state of health care in Pakistan, a nation of 208 million where almost a third of the population lives on less than $3.20 a day and where many people cannot afford expensive medical tests or drugs.
Few families can afford proper treatment for HIV, which usually involves regular trips to Karachi.
“I have sold all my valuables for treatment. Now I can’t afford to go Karachi for my children’s medicines every month,” said Tariq, who lives in a village near Ratodero.
Tariq, his wife and daughter are HIV positive, and a nephew tested positive this month. He does not know how they became infected.
“There are 16 HIV cases in our village alone. No one has come to see our plight,” he said.


FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

Updated 09 December 2019

FBI: Saudi shooter believed to have acted alone in US Navy base attack

  • Special agent Rachel Rojas thanked Saudi Arabia for its cooperation in the investigation
  • Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani was shot dead after he opened fire and killed three people at the base in Florida

PENSACOLA: Investigators believe a Saudi Air Force lieutenant acted alone on Friday when he killed three people and wounded eight at a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida before being fatally shot by police, the FBI said on Sunday.
Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office, said the shooter used a Glock model 45 9mm handgun that he had purchased legally in Florida.
“We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack and no arrests have been made in this case,” Rojas, the lead investigator on the case, said at a news conference.
“We are looking very hard at uncovering his motive and I would ask for patience so we can get this right,” she said.
Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.
The FBI identified him as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21.
A sheriff’s deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a US military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had called US President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge the Kingdom’s support in the investigation.
Rojas said there were several Saudi students who were close to the shooter and are cooperating with investigators.
“Their Saudi commanding officer has restricted them to base, and the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation,” she said. “I thank the kingdom for their pledge of full and complete cooperation.”

Meanwhile, a second victim was identified as Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Haitham's mother, Evelyn Brady, herself a Navy veteran, said the commander of her son's school called her and told her Haitham had tried to stop the shooter.