Pakistan’s southern Sindh province shaken by surge in HIV infections

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In this May 18, 2019 file photo, employees of the Sindh AIDS Control Programs can be seen screening patients for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Ratodero, Pakistan. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
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In this May 18, 2019 file photo, employees of the Sindh AIDS Control Programs can be seen screening patients for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Ratodero, Pakistan. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
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In this May 18, 2019 file photo, employees of the Sindh AIDS Control Programs can be seen screening patients for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Ratodero, Pakistan. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
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A staff member of the Sindh AIDS Control Program holds a pamphlet at the Ratodero screening camp on May 18, 2019. Distributed among patients and their families, the pamphlet was designed to educate people about the disease, misconceptions and precautionary measures. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
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A staff member of the Sindh AIDS Control Program collects blood sample from a child at Ratodero hospital on May 18, 2019. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
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A large number of women and children line up outside a free medical and screening camp in Ratodero on May 18, 2019. Screening in Ratodero started on April 25, only a few days after several HIV cases were reported by the media. By June 18, 2019, about 28,549 people had been screened for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and 812 had tested positive. (AN Photo by Amar Guriro)
Updated 21 June 2019

Pakistan’s southern Sindh province shaken by surge in HIV infections

  • 821 people, many of them children, tested positive for the virus in just the area of Ratodero
  • Police blame one paediatrician who used contaminated syringes, health officials say widespread negligence and malpractice responsible

KARACHI: Investigators have held a local pediatrician guilty for a surge in patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, police said this week, as health officials blamed widespread malpractice and negligence for an outbreak that has affected over 800 people in just one area.
Officials say more than 821 people, many of them children, tested positive for the HIV virus after a mass screening of 28,850 people was recently performed in Ratodero, a sub-division of Larkana, with a population of around 300,000. The source of the outbreak, according to Pakistani and World Health Organization officials, is the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice, often at the hands of quack doctors.
At the heart of the crisis is one pediatrician, Dr. Muzaffar Ghangharo, who used contaminated syringes while treating his patients in Ratodero, police officials said on Thursday. Dr. Muzaffar Ghanghro was arrested on April 30 and has been charged with unintentional murder.
Police officer Sartaj Jagirani said 123 infected children, whose family members had recorded their statements with police, had been treated by Ghangharo.
“The joint investigation teams (JIT) has held Dr. Muzaffar Ghangharo responsible for spreading the virus by using contaminated syringes while vaccinating his patients,” Jagirani, who is stationed at Ratodero, told Arab News. “The doctor is guilty.”
Many local doctors and health officials, however, said not all of the 812 people who tested positive in Ratodero were treated by the accused doctor, and the problem was much bigger than one individual.
In rural Sindh — long bridled by harsh poverty and illiteracy — access to information about HIV and other diseases has kept the large swathes of the population in the dark about how the virus is transmitted. Healthcare facilities in the province are meagre and negligence by inadequately-qualified doctors is common.




(Source: Sindh AIDs Control Program)




(Source: Sindh AIDs Control Program)




(Source: Sindh AIDs Control Program)

“If a mass screening is carried out across the province, we are likely to discover that the situation in Ratodero is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Ghulam Shabbir Imran Arbani, the medical practitioner who first reported HIV cases to the media in April this year. “Since medical malpractice persists across the province, there should be a mass screening program to save people from dying.”
Dr. Ramesh Kumar, the medical superintendent of Taluka Hospital Ratodero, said the accused Ghangharo was probably one among several sources of the growing epidemic.
“There are children with HIV infection from other towns who went to other doctors for treatment,” he told Arab News. “If a mass screening is conducted in other parts of Sindh, the results will not be different.”
In April, Arbani informed police that 18 children in Ratodero had tested positive for the HIV virus, which is incurable, but if left untreated can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) within a period of six months to ten years. AIDS is fatal.
The increase in the number of new HIV cases reported in Pakistan stands in sharp contrast to a global decline. According to the National AIDS Control Program, the country’s Sindh province has 60,000 estimated cases of HIV and about 9,500 cases of AIDS.
Dr. Safdar Kamal Pasha at the World Health Organization said a mass screening was usually performed in “key HIV populations,” responding to a question of whether a province-wide screening would take place.
“Unsafe injection practices and poor infection control are among the most important drivers of the outbreak,” Pasha told Arab News.
He also added this was not the first outbreak in Sindh. After two minor outbreaks in the last decade, a third outbreak occurred in 2016 when a chronic kidney disease patient at Chandka hospital tested positive.
“Later 46 patients who used to come for blood transfusion tested positive for the virus as well,” Pasha said, speaking about the 2016 outbreak.
In rural Sindh, as across Pakistan, widespread stigma attached to HIV and AIDS and its spread has unleashed widespread rumors and superstitions.
Last month a man strangled his wife to death after she tested positive for HIV in Sindh province with her husband accusing her of having an extramarital affair.
Arbani said the woman’s murder was not the only case where a victim of the disease had been punished. He recalled the case where a father was unwilling to test his 16-month baby for the disease, saying the test was only meant “for adults with bad moral character.”
He added that during an awareness campaign at the Waris Dino Mashi village, he found a woman tied to a tree like an animal. “The family told us she was HIV positive and would spread the deadly virus if she was not tied properly,” he said.
“A 3-year-old baby who was HIV positive was brought to my clinic on Wednesday,” Arbani continued. “Her mother told me that her son was mistreated by all the children in the neighborhood who did not play with him since they thought he was going to bring harm to them.”


EU safety agency suspends Pakistani airlines’ European authorization

Updated 01 July 2020

EU safety agency suspends Pakistani airlines’ European authorization

  • The step has been taken due to concerns about the country’s ability to ensure compliance with international aviation standards
  • PIA expects the ‘earliest possible’ lifting of suspension after action by the government and the airline

ISLAMABAD: The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) has suspended Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) authorization to fly to the bloc for six months, the airline said on Tuesday, in a major blow to the country’s flag carrier.
Separately, the safety agency said it took the action due to concerns about the country’s ability to ensure compliance with international aviation standards at all times.
The suspension follows Pakistan’s grounding of 262 of the country’s 860 pilots — including 141 of PIA’s 434 — whose licenses the aviation minister termed “dubious.”
“EASA has temporarily suspended PIA’s authorization to operate to the EU member states for a period of six months effective July 1, 2020 with the right to appeal,” PIA said in a statement. It added it would temporarily discontinue all its flights to Europe.
Confirming the move in an emailed statement, the EASA referred to a recent investigation by Pakistan which it said showed a “large share” of pilot licenses to be invalid.
Pakistan’s grounding of the pilots followed a preliminary report on a PIA crash in Karachi that killed 97 people last month.
PIA said it is in contact with the EASA to take corrective measures and appeal against the decision, adding that it expected the “earliest possible” lifting of the suspension after action by the government and the airline.
The EASA also suspended the authorization of another Pakistani airline, Vision Air International.
Vision Air International did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Following the EASA’s decision, the UK Civil Aviation Authority said it, too, was withdrawing PIA’s permit to operate from three of its airports, as required under law.
“PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect,” a spokesman for the UK authority told Reuters.
The three were major flying destinations for the airline.
Meanwhile, Pakistani pilots and their union, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), say there are discrepancies in the government’s list of pilots with licenses deemed dubious and are demanding a judicial investigation.
PIA and private airline Air Blue have also queried the list with PIA saying 36 of its pilots mentioned had either retired or left the airline, while Air Blue said it no longer employed seven of nine pilots on the list.
“It contains names of highly educated and qualified pilots who have passed all the tests,” PALPA’s president, Chaudhry Salman, told Reuters. “We want a fair and impartial resolution to this matter.”
An official at Pakistan’s aviation ministry, Abdul Sattar Khokhar, said they did not have full details of the discrepancies. “The issue is being sorted out in consultation with airlines and civil aviation authorities.”