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May 27, 2019

Over 150,000 HIV and AIDS cases in Pakistan: Dr Zafar

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May 27, 2019

ISLAMABAD: PM’s Special Adviser on Health Dr Zafar Mirza Tuesday said that the reported cases of HIV in Pakistan are way less than actual numbers as according to conservative estimates, there are 163,000 HIV and AIDS cases in Pakistan, of which only 25,000 are registered with the national and provincial AIDS control programmes, and of these 25,000 cases, only 16,000 are getting proper treatment.

He underlined the need to address the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Dr Zafar said that the spread of communicable diseases exposes the deficiencies inherent in our healthcare system and our cultural practices.

He added that resources will be mobilised to address the HIV outbreak, when needed.

He stated that a high-level international rapid response mission is being dispatched to Pakistan to ascertain the cause of the HIV outbreak, to advise on mitigation measures, and to suggest ways to avoid similar recurrences in future.

Dr Zafar acting with absolute responsibility and yet naturally perturbed by the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases in Sindh’s Ratodero tehsil, which has reported the biggest-ever HIV outbreak in any part of Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference on the recent HIV outbreak in Ratodero, Dr Zafar shared that the Regional Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acceded to Pakistan’s request for a thorough investigation into the outbreak, and that a team of top international technical experts is being dispatched to Pakistan for this purpose. The 10-member response team will comprise experts from WHO and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and will land in Karachi in the next two days.

Dr Zafar added that the Sindh government, with the assistance of the federal government, has so far carried out blood screening of 21,375 people, of whom 681 have tested positive for HIV.

“The most striking feature of the outbreak is that of these 631 cases, 537 cases are children in the 2 to 5 years age bracket, followed by children aged between 5-15 years,” Dr Zafar said, amidst assurances that the government will not relent till it gets to the bottom of the outbreak, provides treatment to all patients, and devises a foolproof system for protection. Referring to the potential underlying causes of HIV and Hepatitis outbreaks, Dr Zafar cited reuse of syringes, use of unscreened blood for transfusion purposes, non-adherence to protocols for infection prevention and control, and unprotected sexual practices as the key challenges. He said that the use of unsafe injections could be the most likely cause of the Sindh HIV outbreak, unless there is some other hidden causes, which will conclusively be known once investigations have been completed. He said that major steps will shortly be announced to eliminate the causes for such disease outbreaks.

Dr Zafar said that the federal government dashed to support the Sindh Health Department as details of spike in HIV cases surfaced. “I was in the affected area myself for stock-taking; we are providing all possible support including screening kits and medicines.

Responding to a request made by the Sindh AIDS Control Programme (SACP), the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) immediately sent 3,000 HIV screening kits to Ratodero, where initial search and investigation was underway with the participation of NACP technical team, members of UN agencies, and experts from Aga Khan Hospital,” he stated. He said, another 50,000 screening kits and medicines for children have been ordered.

Dr Zafar shared that the Centre is supporting SACP by providing assistance in specialised HIV investigations like CD4 (Lymphocyte) count and viral load testing by providing additional supplies and CD4 machines. NACP has also supported the establishment of a Paediatric ART Centre in Larkana; this is in addition to the existing HIV Treatment Centre for adults at Chandka Medical College Hospital. Dr Zafar said three more treatment centres would be established in Mirpurkhas, Nawab Shah and Hyderabad in the coming days.

Referring to the PM’s surprise visits to health facilities in Sargodha, Khushab and Talagang, Dr Zafar said that the MTI system being introduced by the government and transformative changes in the teaching hospitals are being managed. He said that overcrowding of hospitals and acute shortage of beds in emergencies are major obstacles in provision of seamless medical services to patients. Dr Zafar added that major reforms will be implemented to ensure that patients visiting public hospitals get the same quality of care that is available to private patients.

Dr Zafar concluded by sharing that Prime Minister Imran Khan will make a major announcement on health within the next two weeks.

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