Healthcare emergency; HIV outbreak in Pakistan
- HIV worst hit Pakistan with 0.165 million affectees, reports NACP.
- People living with HIV who know their status are 24,331 as per the data of the NACP.
- IDUs, sex workers, negligence during the blood transfusion, quacks are major drivers of the epidemic.
- Hundreds of children are affected by the virus in Larkana – Bhutto’s traditional seat of power.
Spread of HIV in Larkana
Larkana is the residential constituency of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). It is where the Chairperson of PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, late Benazir Bhutto, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto have been elected from. It’s not wrong to say that Larkana is PPP’s traditional hub of power with hundreds of children affected with HIV. Lasting fevers in the children of Larkana is, reportedly, the first visible of the epidemic disease. Initially, around 15 children were tested positive with HIV followed by the 400 positive HIV results.
It is quite noticeable that parents of these children were not HIV positive, the sign that suspected the doctor who mainly looks after these patients. The results came back positive. The Doctor Ghangharo was arrested on the suspicion of intentionally infecting the children, reports BBC. The doctor, however, is cleared of the charge but found guilty of criminal medical negligence. Medical negligence in the healthcare of locals is likely to be the cause of the outbreak.
Provincial outbreak figures
Punjab is the most vulnerable to the epidemic with the infection of HIV in 75,000 affectees. Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan have the number of affected people 60,000, 16,332 and 5,227 respectively. More than 2000 people are infected in the AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Islamabad, the federal capital of the country is no exception to the outbreak with over 6000 people affected. Men are more highly affected than underage, women and transgenders with the disease.
Statistics of NACP
According to the statistics available with the National Aids Control Program (NACP), around 23,757 people living with HIV had already been registered at different Family Care Centres. Of these 5,115 are injecting drug users. Merely 15,800 of the registered persons come for a regular checkup at government health sectors. “If more people appear, got screened and get registered with the program, it will be more successful, but if people are reluctant to screening, the number of cases would invariably increase, says Dr. Baseer Achakzai Manager for National Aids Control Program.
HIV treatment coverage
Pakistan ranks lowest among other countries with adults living with HIV. The percentage of treatment coverage is lowest in Pakistan, reports UNAIDS. Out of 13 countries that reported to the UNAIDS on treatment coverage among the people living with HIV who inject drugs, Pakistan stays more vulnerable with the lowest treatment coverage. According to the figures of UN Global HIV Aids Control Program about 36.9 million people worldwide are the victim if the deadly disease. South African countries are reported with 19 million cases alone, the report says.
Major causes of the spread
The poor socio-economic standing, poor access to healthcare facilities make the conditions of those affected more vulnerable to death with delayed diagnosis. Many people stay undiagnosed even from months to years. Negligence during a blood transfusion, the use of syringes affected by the viruses especially at the hands of drug addicts and intimate contact with an affected person can cause the disease. Furthermore, the lack of hygiene during a blood transfusion, tissue transplant, cutting, piercing, accidental needle stick injuries are the drivers of the disease as well. The initial signs are not much more visible besides prolonged fever and some diarrhea.
Who is responsible?
It is the consistent failure on the part of the Ministry of Health in the surveillance and registration of the vast majority of patients. The underreporting of the disease can damage even more chunk of the population. NACP which was started in 1987 is given the task to manage the disease, however, the institution with all of its 33 centers countrywide consistently failed in the discharge of duties despite the allocation of billions of rupees for the said task.
A regular checkup is required by the time of appearance of initial symptoms i.e, weight loss, continuous fever, and diarrhea. Prevention is better than cure and prevention from the reuse of syringes, bringing awareness among the people regarding its spread and the treatment of the affected people can further the life of the victim. Moreover, the drug addicts contract the disease by using the infected syringes. These patients are treated with ARV Therapy for medical treatment. December1 is observed as World Aids Day every year. The motive behind the celebration is not only to spread awareness among the people but also to inform the people about its gruesome impact on society.