HIV Outbreak In Larkana and Criminal Indifference of Sindh Government
Saima Jafri writes about the rising HIV cases in Larkana and how the government can work towards managing the situation.
Health and education have been the two most ignored areas of governance in Sindh. Recently, news reports about an alarming number of HIV positive cases in Larkana, Ratodero and other cities of Sindh shocked the nation. According to newspapers’ reports, some 478 cases have been detected in Ratodero out of the 11,068 persons screened. Oddly enough, 356 among them were children whose parents tested negative.
In Larkana, similar cases were reported and the MS of Larkana Government hospital, Muzzafar Ghanghro, who himself is HIV positive, was held responsible for spreading HIV among children and adults by injecting his infected blood.
According to the survey of Sindh Directorate of Health Services, 5656 patients were screened in Sindh in 12 days out of whom 186 people tested HIV positive, among whom 102 were children which is the highest ratio (Survey Report).
Till date, there is no reliable data available on the actual number of HIV positive cases in Sindh as the Aids Control Program Management is allegedly hiding the data to avoid public outrage. One thing is for sure that the majority of victims are children and women who become infected because of lack of knowledge regarding this grave issue.
Because of the social taboos attached with aids, the matter is hardly discussed in families and even on media. Speculations are that blood transfusion is also a main cause behind the spread of HIV, whereas un authorized resale of used syringes is the foremost and commonest cause of the spread of this deadly disease.
After the cases were highlighted in media, the government crackdown was on quack doctors as some 400 clinics of quacks were sealed. However, the sale and purchase of used syringes continues unchecked. Another reason behind the spread of HIV may be the hospital waste which is thrown out in dump yards in Larkana as there is no burner for waste.
Medical waste is thrown out in regular garbage ponds from where drug addicts pick up used infected syringes. The same syringes are supplied to factories which repackage them and commercially sell these infected syringes. These reports were confirmed by senior professors of Chandka medical college.
What’s worrisome is the silence of provincial government on the issue and their usual cosmetic measures to hush up the issue. Sindh certainly needs to tackle the issue on war footing and the government must announce a health emergency. HIV screening needs to be made free and mandatory in every district (like the polio drops campaign).
Aids Control Program of Sindh must make its data available and make it public as to how they are handling the issue. They must also take onboard responsible members of civil society and professionals to devise practical strategies. Shutting down of quacks and laboratories are temporary measures as such businesses open up with new names.
The matter must be handled sensibly by providing hospitals with proper waste management, blood screening for transfusion purposes and proper crackdown on used syringe factories. To handle the social dimension of the issue, people must be sensitized on their social and sexual behavior, for which local influencers like religious preachers, teachers and politicians need to start awareness campaigns to remove the stigma attached with the problem. Although the scenario at hand seems to be bleak and the previous track record of health department in Sindh is disappointing, the issue is still manageable.