’How can she have HIV?’:Pakistan town struggles with surge in infections

Two-year old HIV positive boy sits on the lap of his father, in Ratodero, Pakistan May 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 01 June 2019

’How can she have HIV?’:Pakistan town struggles with surge in infections

  • Doctors battle to cope with nearly 700 new cases of HIV since April, most of them of children
  • Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate

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 (298 miles) 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% 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. 

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

Updated 12 January 2020

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

  • Work on foreign minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States being done
  • Pakistan’s strong relations with regional countries has made it an important player

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated on Thursday that the country was going to play its role in restoring peace in the Middle East by working with other international stakeholders in the region.

“Pakistan welcomes de-escalation and wants to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in the region. We have seen that indication in United States President [Donald] Trump’s speech and are evaluating its contours,” the country’s foreign office spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui, said in her weekly media briefing in Islamabad on Thursday.

She said that Pakistan’s geographical position, along with its strong relations with regional countries and the United States, had made it a significant player in the Middle East.

“Pakistan has maintained that war is not the solution to any issue and made it clear that it will not become part of any regional conflict,” she said.

The spokesperson noted that Islamabad had enhanced its efforts to defuse tensions in the region and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had contacted his counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and many other important states in this connection.

“All the international players, including Saudi Arabia, have said that the region cannot afford another war and asked for restraint from both parties [the US and Iran]. It’s a collective objective of all countries to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East,” she said.

Commenting on the foreign minister’s upcoming visit to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US, she said that “work on these tours has already started and they will take place as soon as dates are finalized with the respective countries.”

“We are very mindful for our brotherly and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other regional countries. Pakistan and the US also enjoy longstanding relations and have contacts with each other through multiple forums including political and military leadership,” Farooqui said, adding that the foreign office had established a task force to continuously monitor the situation in the Middle East and inform the government about it along with its suggestions on a daily basis.

The spokesperson expressed hope that recent developments in the Middle East would not affect the ongoing Afghan peace process.

“Pakistan hopes that progress made on Afghan peace process will not come to a halt and the world community will not lose its focus as a result of the ongoing tensions in the Middle East,” she said.

Asked about the safety of Pakistani nationals in Iraq, she said the country’s embassy in Baghdad was on the alert to deal with any emergency situation.

“We are concerned about the safety of Pakistani citizens in Iraq and have issued an advisory in this regard. We have also instructed our mission in Baghdad to remain vigilant to deal with any emergency,” Farooqui said.