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‘Opposition should not exploit health emergency for political gains’

Karachi

May 19, 2019

Saying that the present outbreak in Sindh is that of HIV and not of AIDS, Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho has advised the opposition political parties not to exploit the situation for their political gains, as it will only create undue fear and apprehension among the public, which in turn will hamper the efforts to tackle the health emergency.

Giving a policy statement on the floor of the provincial assembly during its sitting on Saturday, the minister maintained that the fresh instance is an outbreak of HIV among children confined to the town of Ratodero in the province and its nearby villages.

She gave the policy statement on the HIV epidemic in Sindh a day after the PA’s proceedings were severely marred because the opposition lawmakers vociferously protested in the House while holding placards over being denied the opportunity to hold a discussion on the health emergency.

“This is the issue of HIV, and it has not attained the stage of AIDS. Please do not spread panic; please do not politicise this issue. HIV is treatable, while AIDS is incurable. People will be worried as panic spreads among them,” said the minister while giving her policy statement.

She said Sindh, unlike the other provinces, has never concealed its statistics related to patients of HIV/AIDS in the province and, instead, has always shared them with all the relevant stakeholders for the sake of transparency on this vital health issue.

“It is Punjab that has always brushed its cases of HIV/AIDS under the carpet, as it never informs anyone about its figures,” she told the House.

She said it was wrong to assume that Sindh accounts for majority of the HIV/AIDS cases in the country when Punjab accounts for 50 per cent of such cases, adding that Sindh accounts for 30 per cent of the HIV/AIDS cases.

The health minister said this was not the first time the country had witnessed an outbreak of HIV/AIDS cases, as similar epidemics had been reported earlier in Sargodha, Chiniot and Gujrat, while a minor outbreak was also reported recently in Balochistan.

She said that so far 16,169 people had been screened in Sindh for HIV/AIDS after receiving reports regarding the latest instance of outbreak. She added that out of the people who were screened for HIV/AIDs, 550 — 106 adults and 444 children — had tested positive.

The minister said the outbreak of HIV was observed in newborns as well as in children up to the age of 15, adding that most of the cases were reported in minors of ages between two and five years.

She said the Sindh government has established eight screening centres to detect the cases of HIV/AIDS since the outbreak. She added that a single screening test costs around Rs9,500 and it is unfeasible for the government to screen the entire population of the city of Larkana as being demanded by the opposition.

Moreover, she said, national and provincial health laws and norms make it mandatory that the people give their consent before they can be screened for HIV/AIDS.

The health minister said the Sindh government has zero tolerance for quackery, adding that it recently shut down three unauthorised blood banks and 166 clinics being run by quacks.

She said that warnings have been issued to 44 more clinics, as they do not meet the criteria prescribed for their functioning. She added that special directives have been passed on to public and private hospitals in the province to adopt special measures to meet hygiene standards as well as observe infection control measures to prevent such outbreaks.

She said the Sindh government will fully support the children diagnosed with HIV in the province, bearing all the expenses of their education and treatment. The government will also provide employment opportunities to these children once they reach adulthood, she added.

The minister said the media should desist from revealing the individual identities of the children diagnosed with HIV to save them from stigma and discrimination in their communities.

She said she had seen fear on the faces of the parents whose children had recently been diagnosed with HIV, so they should not be subjected to further despair through irresponsible reporting and politicisation of the issue.

Speaking in the House earlier, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s parliamentary party leader Haleem Adil Sheikh said the facility of HIV screening should be introduced at every basic health unit of the Sindh government keeping in view the intensity of the latest epidemic.

He said he had talked to the federal health adviser and the Sindh governor, and health insurance cards will be issued by the federal government to every person in the province who has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

He added that the provincial and federal health authorities should sit together and adopt a collective strategy to deal with this epidemic and health emergency.

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