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More than 400 HIV infected people in southern Pakistan



In this picture taken on May 9, 2019, a Pakistani nurse takes blood samples from a child testing HIV at a Rato Derou state hospital in Larkana district in southern Sindh province
AFP

Authorities say the epidemic could be associated with gross negligence or malicious intent of a local pediatrician

Parents are nervously watching their children wait for HIV testing in a village in southern Pakistan where hundreds of people are allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe.

Sold to order, the police scans the worried mass while families are pushing into one of the five screening facilities set up last month in the village of Wasayo, suburb of Larkane, Sindh.

Health workers say more than 400 people, many of whom have been tested HIV positive in recent weeks, experts warn of an increase in infection rates throughout Pakistan, due to the use of unhygienic equipment and unfair practices – often in the hands of charlatan physicians.

Anger and fear continue to grow in a desperately poor village with a hard-hit epidemic, which authorities say could be related to either the gross negligence or malicious intentions of a local pediatrician.

"There are dozens," says a physician in an improvised clinic, obsessed with the lack of equipment and staff to treat a large number of patients.

Mukhtar Pervez is eagerly awaiting her daughter's testing, worrying that recent fever can relate to the outbreak of the disease. For others, their worst fears have already become a reality.

Nisar Ahmed has arrived at the drugstore clinic after his three-year-old daughter has tested positively three days earlier.

"Damn." [the doctor] which has caused all these children to become infected, "she says angrily.

Nearby Imams Zadi monitors five of their children to look at her after a grunt check.

"The whole family is so upset," she told AFP.

Others are concerned that the future of their children is irreparably damaged after HIV infection, especially in countries whose rural poor are not sufficiently well-informed about the disease or access to treatment.

"Who's gonna play with, and when he grows up, who wants to marry him?" she asks a tearful mother from a nearby village, who asked her not to name her, about her four-year-old daughter who was just testing positive.

"Helpless"

Pakistan has long considered HIV as a country with a small prevalence, but the disease spreads at an alarming rate, particularly among drug users and sexual workers.

Since only 201,000 new HIV infections have been reported in 2017, Pakistan currently has the second highest rate of HIV across Asia, according to the United Nations.

Pakistan's growing population also faces additional burdens for lack of access to quality health care after decades of under-investment in the state, leaving the poor, rural communities vulnerable to unqualified doctors.

"According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors work across the country, and about 270,000 are practiced in the Sindh province," UNAIDS said in a statement.

Provincial health professionals have also noted that patients are at a particular risk of being infected with diseases or viruses in these clinics, where injections often push the primary treatment option.

"In order to save money, these quacks will inject more patients with one syringe, which could be the main cause of HIV spread," said Sikandar Memon, Sindh Aids Control Control Provincial.

A large number of unqualified physicians, along with "reuse of syringes, insecure blood transfusions and other unsafe medical practices", have led to an increase in the number of HIV cases over the last few years, explains Bushra Jamil, an infectious disease expert at Aga Khan University, Karachi .

"Unchallenged medical abuses without effective checks and balances cause repeated occurrences in Pakistan," said Jamil.

Authorities investigating the Sindh epidemic say the accused doctor also positively tested HIV.

From the prison cell in the nearby town of Ratodero, he denied allegations and allegations that he was knowingly injecting his patients with a virus, while he complained that he was imprisoned with ordinary criminals.

However, for newly diagnosed parents, ongoing investigation means little if they can not provide access to better information and necessary medicines that can help prevent the deadly AIDS virus.

"We are helpless. I have other children and I'm afraid they can catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently tested HIV positively.

"[Please] send the cures for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our kids will die, right? "


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