Over 90 test positive for HIV in southern Pakistan

By Aamir Latif

LARKANA, Pakistan (AA) – Hundreds of Pakistanis crowded into blood screening camps in Larkana, a remote district of southern Sindh province Friday after more than 90 people, mostly children, tested positive for the HIV virus last week, according to authorities.

The district made headlines after 13 of 16 children tested positive for the virus.

The shocking results led health officials to deploy teams of doctors and area residents rushed to be screened amid fear of a rise in number of affections.

Police arrested an HIV positive local doctor earlier this week on charges of deliberately spreading the fatal disease among children.

The doctor denies the charge and said he was not aware of his own condition until he was screened this week.

“We have so far screened nearly 2,700 people since April 25. Out of them, some 91 have been tested positive for HIV,” Director General of the Sindh Health Department, Dr. Masood Solangi, told Anadolu Agency.

Health department figures show 79 of the 91 are children.

Police and health officials have launched a crackdown against unauthorized laboratories, blood banks and clinics across the province following the results.

“This is, no doubt an alarming situation as we were not expecting these figures,” Sindh AIDS Control Program, Dr. Aftab Ahmad told Anadolu Agency.

The government is expanding blood screening facilities to other districts, which would continue testing until the level of positive tests plummeted, he said.

A large number of Pakistanis suffer from poverty and illiteracy, mainly in rural areas, and are taken advantage of by phony doctors who repeatedly use disposable syringes.

“The level of quackery [fake doctors] is too huge,” said Ahmad. “Until and unless, it is controlled, I am afraid spreading of HIV virus cannot be contained.”

In addition to the impoverished, other communities at risk include drug addicts, transgenders, sex workers and homosexuals.

Unsafe blood transfusions at unregistered and ill-equipped blood banks in Pakistan is another reason behind the spread of HIV, which already has seen a 45% increase since 2010.

According to UNAIDS estimates, around 150,000 HIV patients are living among a population of more than 200 million people in Pakistan. Of them only 10% have the facility of lifesaving drugs. The remaining are at high risk to transmit the incurable virus to others, even newborn babies.

Ahmad said out of the estimated 150,000 HIV patients, more than 50,000 were in Sindh province but only 15,000 have been detected.

“We really do not know the actual number of HIV patients here because the symptoms of this disease become evident years after the contraction. That’s why general public do not get tested,” he said.

Recently, he said, the level of HIV/AIDS had been downgraded from fatal to chronic.

“This is a highly dangerous virus. There is no vaccine or cure for it. But like diabetes, if an infected person takes treatment, it keeps him healthier for a longer period,” he said.