Ratodero (28th Oct, 2019): Reuse of syringes leads to alarming results with nine hundred children testing HIV positive in Pakistan.
According to reports, New York Times (NY Times) has published a detailed report of the recent outbreak of HIV in a Pakistani city, Ratodero. It has been confirmed in the report that approximately 900 children have been diagnosed as H.I.V. [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] Positive. As confirmed by the NY Times report, these children were bedridden due to unidentifiable cause(s) of fever earlier in the year with the disease eventually diagnosed later, in April.
While, health workers initially placed blame for the outbreak on a paediatrician arguing that he was reusing syringes. Detailed investigation into the case proved that it was indeed due to the negligence of paediatrician, Muzaffar Ghanghro, which led to so many testing as HIV positive. News of the epidemic was first reported when local journalist, Gulbahar Shaikh, pointed out the alarming rise in the number of people being diagnosed for HIV in the region. Since the initial diagnosis of almost 900 children, about 1,100 citizens have been confirmed to have contracted the deadly anomaly. Reportedly, Ghanghro was also personal paeditirician for Shaikh’s children. “It was devastating”, said Mr. Shaikh when he found out that his two-year old daughter, had also been victim of the outbreak.
Moreover, as confirmed by the report, Ghanghro was the most economical option for the residents of Ratodero who make as less as $60 a month. Apart from Mr. Shaikh, four out of six of Imtiaz Jalbani’s children were also confirmed to be HIV Positive. It has been confirmed that two of Mr. Jalbani’s youngest children have since passed away. According to NY Times, based on his account, Jalbani who is a labourer by profession, had been alarmed when he saw the doctor rummage through the trash for a used syringe to be used again on Jalbani’s six year old son, Ali, another HIV positive case. However, Ghanghro had allegedly snapped at him in response. Mr. Jalbani further confirmed that his family had to starve in order to be able to pay for the medication.
Consequently, the negligent doctor has been taken into police custody and has yet been charged for negligence, manslaughter, including unintentional harm. However, he has yet to be indicted though he refuses the allegations, insisting that he has never reused syringes. Based on the NY Times report, Ghanghro, who recently renewed his medical license, may likely be the sole reason behind the epidemic in Pakistan’s Ratodero region. Additionally, it was reported by health workers that there are many similar cases of doctors reusing syringes, barbers using same razors and/or blades, roadside dentists cracking away at peoples’ teeth etc, across the region.
As confirmed in the NY Times, “Such unhygienic practices are prevalent across Pakistan and probably the leading cause of the country’s surging rates of H.I.V. infection, according to health officials”. While at first the government was hesitant to respond, testing centers have been set up in the government buildings along with yellow tents to deal with worried residents eager to be tested. Officials are dreading the real numbers may very well be above 1,112. Moreover, those who have been confirmed to be HIV positive have been segregated from those considered healthy. Even in schools, children including local journalist, Mr. Shaikhs’ daughter, the affected are made to sit on the side-lines and refrained from connecting with their healthier companions and/or relatives. Mr. Shaikh has stated, “My wife and I, fortunately, we are literate. We hug and love our daughter. But our relatives stopped touching her and are now reluctant to visit us”.
Reportedly, doctors and other medical staff are still struggling to cope with the growing numbers of HIV positive patients.
While there have been prior outbreaks of HIV across Pakistan since 2003, the most recent in Ratodero, which is significantly more terrifying as the majority victims are children as confirmed by Ms. Filio-Borromeo. Authorities have reportedly shut down many illegal blood banks as well as clinics run by unqualified doctors in hopes to overcome the outbreak.
Dr. Arbani has stated, “In Pakistan, the government does not act unless there is a national uproar sparked by media coverage”. As confirmed by Dr. Arbani, nearly 35 children have passed away since 25th of April.
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