The HIV outbreak in Ratodero has not only shaken the country but the entire world. Over 700 individuals have tested positive for the disease, out of which around 600 are children! WHO experts have called this event the first of its kind, and have deemed it “strange and new.” There has been no other known instance where HIV has spread this vastly and quickly within a region, that too majorly in children under 5 years of age.
Top healthcare experts from around the globe have expressed concern on the matter and are offering services to investigate the matter, and control the outbreak after getting to the root cause.
Chairman of Sindh Health Care Commission, Prof Tipu Sultan when asked to comment on the situation blamed a number of cultural practices common within the area.
He said, “When it comes to circumcision of the male children, there is no concept of going to a qualified doctor. Just about any other person can be approached for the purpose. In case of little girls, use of unsanitary and used needles for ear piercings can be blamed.”
“In this region it is a cultural norm to shave children’s heads multiple times. The disease spread is encouraged when the same dirty blade is used for multiple individuals,” he said.
There is an increased incidence of Thalassemia major and minor in Larkana, which accounts for greater number of blood transfusions. Unfortunately, the practice of blood screening at the time of receiving donation is rarely performed; many times blood from diseased individuals are offered to healthy people, Prof Tipu informed, adding that often the same needle/syringe was used for multiple patients.
Prof Tipu Sultan expressed his concern regarding the remaining Sindh Province. He called the Ratodero crisis “tip of the iceberg”. The disease burden in Sindh is substantial due to certain cultures and rituals of the region. If screened thoroughly, astounding numbers will be received from across Sindh province regarding the spread of infectious diseases.
Prof Tipu revealed that there was not a single paediatric ward operating in any of the hospitals in Larkana. He displayed mistrust in Sindh’s current health system, and said that under current control of the situation at hand was farfetched.
Earlier, during a UN meeting it was shared that in the past only 1200 children were suffering from HIV across the whole country, and now hundreds of children have been diagnosed with HIV infection within one sub-division of Larkana district. The calamity is of terrifying magnitude.
When asked about a way to combat the situation, Prof Tipu said, “All individuals that have tested positive for HIV infection will, unfortunately, require a lifelong total comprehensive care in order to improve their quality of life and control the spread of disease. Considering the current healthcare system in the province it seems impossible to achieve that. Unless the government gets involved, it would not be possible to control this outbreak; it would continue to spread from one diseased person to another.”
As long as the affected individuals continue to receive the prescribed medical care the spread of the disease can be controlled but at the moment that seems like an unlikely victory, unless the case at hand is prioritized and addressed by the state. He added that challenges of sanitation and unhealthy rituals also needed to be addressed.
Earlier, during their visit to the affected region, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah failed to answer any of the questions and complaints by the local people regarding lack of healthcare facilities and medicines in Larkana.
(Featured photograph my Amna Yaseen)