A doctor has been arrested in Pakistan after more than 430 children and 100 adults tested positive for HIV, with authorities investigating whether he intentionally infected them. According to a report in The Guardian, authorities say the outbreak in Larkana, southern Pakistan, apparently began when Muzaffar Ghangharo, who has Aids, infected patients in early April. He was arrested this month and police are trying to determine whether Ghangharo knowingly spread the disease.
Sikandar Memon, the head of the Aids control programme in Sindh province, said officials had screened 16,000 people from Larkana and 437 children and 100 adults had tested positive for HIV. He said that 60% are children less than five years.
“We were in great pain the day we heard about our son testing HIV positive,” Rehmat Bibi, the mother of 10-year-old Ali Raza, is quoted in the report as saying. She said nothing seemed unusual when the boy came down with a fever at their home in the dusty, largely neglected district of Larkana. The doctor prescribed paracetamol syrup for Raza and told her there was no need to worry. But she panicked after being told that several children in nearby villages who had come down with a fever had tested positive for HIV.
Bibi took Raza to a hospital where tests confirmed he had the virus, which can lead to Aids. Bibi said it was heartbreaking to learn her child had contracted HIV at such a young age. She said all her family members had been tested for the virus but Raza was the only one who had tested positive.
Parents are flocking to screening rooms set up at a makeshift clinic to test their children for HIV, reports News24. At least five different screening rooms have been set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province. Experts warn of a surge in infection rates across Pakistan, due to the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice – often at the hands of quack doctors.
The report says 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.
The report says 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," UNAIDS said.
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. "For the sake of saving money, these quacks will inject multiple patients with a single syringe. This could be the main cause of the spread of HIV cases," said Memon.
The large number of unqualified doctors along with the "reuse of syringes, unsafe blood transfusions, and other unsafe medical practices" have all led to the spike in HIV cases in recent years, explains Bushra Jamil, an expert on infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. "Rampant medical malpractices without any effective checks and balances are causing repeated outbreaks in Pakistan," said Jamil.
The report says, meanwhile, for the parents of the newly diagnosed, the ongoing investigation means little if they are unable to secure access to better information and the necessary drugs that can help stave off the deadly Aids virus. "We are helpless. I have other children and I am afraid they might catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently tested positive for HIV. "(Please) send some medicine for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our children will die, right?"The Guardian report News24 report