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June 2, 2019

Global Fund fears HIV spread into general population in Pakistan

KARACHI: The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Saturday said it is worried about a possible spread of HIV into general population in Pakistan as recent outbreak in Ratoderoa area of Larkana (and many outbreaks before) is just a symptom of a deeper crisis.

“The spread of HIV in Pakistan is worrying. Long time thought to be contained in high risk groups, notably injecting drug users, it is now on the verge of spilling into the general population. The epidemic in Larkana (and many outbreaks across Pakistan) is just a symptom of a deeper crisis. There is no reason for panic, but also no justification for denial,” said Dr. Werner Buehler, Senior Fund Portfolio Manager at the Global Fund in Geneva in response to written queries from The News International. Responding to queries from The News on HIV, AIDS situation in Pakistan and a possible procurement of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for HIV infected children in Ratodero, the Global Fund official confirmed the fund has started procurement of Pediatric Antiretroviral Therapy (ART/ARVs) medicines for the children “through our Rapid Supply Mechanism, after consultation with WHO on the most appropriate regimens”, Dr. Werner Buehler told this scribe in his email.

Over 742 people including 605 children have so far been tested positive for HIV in Ratodero, Larkana since April 25, 2019, officials of Sindh AIDS Control Programme (SACP) said, adding majority of the children (411) are of two to five years of age while 57 are less than one year old. Following reports of deaths of some children due to HIV/AIDS related co-infections in Ratodero, the World Health Organization (WHO) officials in Pakistan said they have requested the Global Fund to provide pediatric ART medicines for around 500 children under the age of five years who could not take drug in tablet forms. The SACP Programme Manager Dr. Sikandar Memon said they already have 420 HIV infected people infected in Sindh registered with them and getting ART medicines regularly provided by the Global Fund and added they have also started giving ARTs to around 190 newly diagnosed children at the paediatric HIV treatment center in Larkana.

The Global Fund official maintained they are providing treatment to roughly 15,000 people living with HIV in Pakistan, saying: “We have seen massive increase in the number of people on ART in the past 4-5 years, mostly due to revised treatment guidelines and expanded and decentralized testing in the drug user community. This is a good development, as individuals on ART can no longer spread the virus and can lead healthy and normal lives”. “But it has financial consequences,” said Dr. Buehler. “The Global Fund is still the only funding source for ART in Pakistan. There is an urgent need for the government (of Pakistan) to plan and pay for domestic drug procurement. There is also a need to decentralize HIV service delivery (and testing) as much as possible. Only then can we overcome one of the biggest obstacles to treatment i.e. distance”, he added. Buehler maintained that the Global Fund will continue to support Pakistan’s fight against HIV for the foreseeable future. “We try our best to prevent more human suffering, but we do realize that the roughly $12 million the Fund spends on HIV in Pakistan per year may not be enough at this stage. We hope the government finds resources to intensify the fight”.