Panic as HIV outbreak hits Pakistan

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In this image taken on May 8, 2019, a Pakistani doctor examines the blood sample from a woman for a HIV test at a state-run hospital in Rato Dero in the district of Larkana of the southern Sindh province. - Parents nervously watch over their children as they jostle in line to be tested for HIV in a village near Pakistans Larkana amid a sudden outbreak among its young who have allegedly been infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe. (Photo by RIZWAN TABASSUM / AFP) / TO GO WITH: Pakistan-health-HIV-children, SCENE by Ashraf KHAN (Photo credit should read RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)

An international team of experts is expected to arrive in southern Pakistan where an HIV outbreak has infected hundreds of children, local media reported on Monday.

“A 10-member joint team of World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) would work with local medics,’’ Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s special advisor for health, said.

On Sunday, Mirza said that the experts would start working in the region in a couple of days.

“Health officials are continuing to screen thousands of people every day after hundreds were found infected with HIV in a small town,’’ Mirza added.

Health official Sikandar Memon said almost 800 people, mostly children, were tested positive in the town of Ratto Dhero in the province of Sindh during a screening process that was launched in April.

According to director general of health for the region, Masood Solangi, up to 2,000 people are being screened every day.

Ratto Dhero is a small, poor town in the district of Larkana, a region where over 1,500 people were found infected in 2018.

“The international experts would investigate the exact cause of the outbreak and assist local authorities to control the spread,’’ Mirza said.

NAN reports that Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers.

With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN.

Pakistan’s surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality healthcare following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners.

“According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across the country and around 270,000 are practicing in the province of Sindh,” said UNAIDS in a statement.

Provincial health officials have also noted that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses at these clinics, where injections are often pushed as a primary treatment option. (dpa/NAN)

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