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Ratodero HIV outbreak first of its kind; WHO experts

Karachi: Top international health experts from all over the world have resolved to find answers regarding the HIV outbreak in Ratodero, which has largely affected children of Larkana. The outbreak has been deemed ‘something new and strange’ and the first of its kind.

“So far investigation by the local health authorities are only based on hypothesis and assumptions that over 580 children out of 712 people tested positive for HIV in small area, contracted the HIV infection through injections. There are still several questions which are required to be answered so that preventive measures could be adopted to prevent such outbreaks any other place in Pakistan, in the region and rest of the world”, said one of the members of an international rapid response team that has arrived in Karachi to investigate the Ratodero’s HIV outbreak before leaving to Larkana from Karachi.

Headed by Dr Oliver Morgan, Director of Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment, in the Health Emergencies Program of World Health Organization (WHO), an 11-member international team comprising experts from CDC Atlanta, Georgia USA, Unicef and UNAIDS held a detailed meeting with Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho, provincial health officials, experts from the Aga Khan University, Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) discussed in detail the ongoing HIV outbreak in Ratodero and planned to start their epidemiological investigation into the outbreak in Larakana.

The international health bodies as well as the federal health authorities in Pakistan are taking the Ratodero outbreak very seriously. Especially since it is mainly confined to children. On the request of federal health ministry of Pakistan, a team of top experts from four different continents arrived in Karachi to investigate the outbreak so that preventive measures can be employed to contain and prevent the disease from spreading to other areas of Pakistan.

WHO experts said that the international team, which is comprised of Karl Schenkel, an epidemiologist from Germany, Lisa Hedman an expert of Injection safety, access to medicines from USA, Walter Zingg IPC/hospital epidemiologist and paediatric expert from Switzerland, Hammad Ali and Elizabeth Rabold Medical Epidemiologists from CDC Antlanta USA, Muhammad Tayyab Medical epidemiologist EMRO, Pakistan, Joumana Hermez Lead, HIV EMRO from Lebanon, Lara Vojnov Diagnostic expert from Canada/Ireland, Serena Brusamento HIV Pediatric Expert from Italy, Yetmgeta Abdella, an expert of blood safety and transfusion from Ethiopia and Dr Taoufik BAKKALI from UNAIDS Bangkok is leaving for Larkana tomorrow and would remain in Pakistan for the next three weeks.

“The mandate of this team is to find out right scientific answers as it is a complex situation where a large number of people, mostly children have been found infected with HIV in short span of time. This is a new and strange situation. Local experts investigating the outbreak have provided a foundation for a detailed scientific investigation but they still don’t have all the answers about this outbreak”, said Dr. Taoufik Bakkali, Regional Advisor UNAIDS for Asia pacific.

Earlier during the meeting, Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho briefed the international team and other participants of the steps taken by the provincial government in curtailing the outbreak and told that after it was pointed that reuse of injections of injections could be the most probable cause of spread of HIV in Ratodero, a province wide crackdown against quacks was launched and so far hundreds of healthcare establishments run by the quacks had been sealed by the provincial authorizes.

She said provincial authorities were facing difficulties in screening such a large population of the Ratodero and adjoining areas and sought federal government and international health agencies support in arranging testing kits for HIV as well as arranging Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) medicines for children who had been tested positive for the HIV in Larkana.

On the other hand, the WHO team led by its country representative in Pakistan Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala also met Sindh Governor Imran Ismail at Governor’s House and assured him that an international team of experts would complete its investigation into the Larkana outbreak within a short span of time and present its report to the provincial government within three weeks.

 

May 30, 2019

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