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May 28, 2019

Foul play feared in Ratodero HIV outbreak


May 28, 2019

KARACHI: Not satisfied with the so far investigations into the HIV outbreak in Ratodero, Larkana, a team of international experts from World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Center for Disease Control (CDC) Atlanta, United States as well Unicef and UNAIDS from Europe, Asia and Africa is arriving at Karachi today (Tuesday) to investigate the root cause of the latest HIV outbreak in Pakistan which has sent shockwaves around the globe, officials said.

“Led-by Dr. Oliver Morgan, Director of Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment, in the Health Emergencies Programme of WHO, an 12-member international team comprising experts from CDC Atlanta, Georgia USA, Unicef and UNAIDS is landing today (Tuesday) in Karachi to investigate the root cause of the latest HIV outbreak in Ratodero area of Larkana, Sindh”, an official of the WHO told The News on Monday. “Other members of the team include 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 Paediatric Expert from Italy, Yetmgeta Abdella, an expert of blood safety and transfusion from Ethiopia and Dr Taoufik BAKKALI from UNAIDS Bangkok”, the official said.

As many as 700 people including 576 children were tested positive for HIV as on Monday since April 25, 2019, officials in the Sindh health department said and blamed the quacks for reuse of syringes as the major source of HIV spread among general population, especially children in the Ratodero, launched a widespread crackdown against quacks in the province. But national and international experts are not satisfied with the so far investigations largely being carried out by the experts from a public and a private medical University of Karachi. After a meeting with UNAIDS Country Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan Dr. Dr. Maria Elena G Filio Borromeo on Monday in Islamabad, Federal Advisor Health Dr. Zafar Mirza also expressed astonishment on Monday that “537 (now 576) out of 681 (700) tested positive are children and their parents are negative”, saying “this is strange and we need to understand this”.

Confirming that an international team of experts is arriving at Karachi to probe into the latest outbreak in Larkana, he tweeted on Monday: “I have invited an international Rapid Response Team to investigate the HIV AIDS outbreak in Larkana. It is important to reach to the root cause of the outbreak. 537 out of 681 positive are children and their parents are negative. This is strange. We need to understand this”.

Fearing a ‘foul play’ in the recent HIV outbreak in Larkana, officials associated with international health organizations said although ‘reuse of syringes’ is emerging as ‘most likely cause of HIV outbreak’ in Larkana, epidemiologists both in Pakistan as well as around the globe are not ‘satisfied’ with the so far investigations and have several questions as to why such a large number of children are infected, which is an unusual pattern.

“As of Monday, 576 out of 700 people who were tested positive are children aging between 2 to 15 years. Of them, over 56 percent are children of two to five years of age while over 18 percent are children are of 6-15 years of age. This makes 75 percent of those infected are children, which is cause of serious concern for experts and officials around the globe”, the official maintained.

“The age group distribution among the reported HIV infection revealed most affected age group was 2-5 Year n=395 (56.4%) followed by Age group 6-15 Years n=128 (18.3%). Age group 15-45 Years n=104 (14.8%) and Age group 46 & Above n=16 (2.3%) respectively”, says summary of a preliminary findings of an investigation led-by the experts from FELTP of Sindh health department as well as Aga Khan University and Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Karachi. But international health bodies working in Pakistan including WHO, Unicef and UNAIDS are not satisfied with the preliminary findings and the question asked by them was very clear and obvious i.e. why so much children?

“This is the question that is troubling experts from Geneva in Switzerland to Atlanta, Georgia in United States. Why such a large number of children, especially those aging between 2-5 years were infected within a particular area. Why this outbreak is confined to Ratodero alone if practice is reuse of syringes is common in entire Pakistan. Why aged people, who get sick equally were not infected with HIV”, the world health body’s official said and added that entire world was looking for answers for the Ratodero outbreak in Pakistan.

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