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January 4, 2020

Health dept yet to get Rs1bn for investment fund

Karachi

January 4, 2020

The Sindh health department has yet to receive Rs1 billion from the finance department for the establishment of an endowment fund for the welfare of people infected with HIV in the Ratodero area of Larkana, as the health department has not yet opened a separate account in any National Bank branch to receive the money, officials told The News on Thursday.

Following the world’s largest HIV outbreak among children in the Ratodero area in April last year, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had announced the establishment of a Rs1 billion endowment fund for the welfare of the people, especially children living with HIV and AIDS, and subsequently the Sindh government allocated the amount in the provincial budget for the year 2019-2020.

As many as 1,230 people, including over 1,000 children, have so far been found infected with HIV in Ratodero since April 2019, and as the screening of people continues, more children are being diagnosed with HIV in the small town, making it the world’s largest town of HIV-infected children.

Following the allocation of Rs1 billion for the welfare of the HIV patients, Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had constituted a seven-member committee to be led-by Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho for the creation of an investment fund, whose proceeds would be utilised for the welfare and rehabilitation of these patients.

Health department authorities said they were expecting to receive Rs100 million to 120 million per annum from the investment fund, which could be used to make the lives of people living with HIV better, and this amount would be in addition to annual allocation for the Sindh AIDS Control Program, which would receive Rs600 million as per its new PC-1.

Comprising an MPA from the Larkana city, representatives from the finance and health departments, and some social workers, the committee led-by Dr Azra Pechuho met for the first time on Thursday at the health minister’s office and found that the department needed a separate account for the transfer of Rs1 billion from the finance department, and the amount could later be invested in any national or private bank or in a financial institution to earn some healthy profit for the welfare of the HIV-infected people of Larkana.

Health department officials said that at the first meeting of the committee, a three-member committee was constituted comprising officials from the finance and health departments to ascertain information about a bank for opening an account to receive funds from the finance department as well as about investment schemes where Rs1 billion could be invested to earn the maximum amount of profit for the ill-fated residents of Ratodero, who had contracted HIV during the last one year.

Officials said most patients were poor residents of Ratodero town and villages around it, whose children fell prey to the prevailing practice of quackery in their areas, as reuse of syringes and IV drips and poor infection control practices emerged as a major cause of the spread of HIV among people.

International health and donor agencies, including the World Health Organisation, Unicef, UNAIDS, Global Fund, UNFPA, which investigated the Ratodero HIV outbreak on the request from federal and Sindh governments, had recommended steps for the rehabilitation and welfare of the patients, as the majority of the affected people were living in poor conditions and could not cope up with the situation without government support.

Unicef has established a state-of-the-art treatment centre for the HIV patients, and it has been handed over to the health department to treat HIV patients closer to their homes. International health agencies are helping health authorities in the provision of medicines, training of doctors and paramedics and latest diagnostic facilities available in the world for the people.