As many as 519 people, most of whom were children, have been tested HIV-positive in the last two weeks in Pakistan’s Sindh province, with health officials attributing the cause to the use of unsanitary equipment, unsafe blood transfusion and rampant malpractice — often at the hands of quack doctors.
According to a UN report, Pakistan now has the second-fastest growing rate of HIV in Asia, with about 20,000 new infections in 2017 alone.
On Wednesday, 39 cases of HIV were detected during screening of people in Larkana district, taking the HIV positive cases to over 500 in the last 17 days, health officials said.
As many as 23 children and five women have tested HIV-positive in the latest screenings carried out in Ratodero town, where the highest number of such cases have been detected in the district.
Last month, provincial health authorities were alarmed when the number of HIV-positive cases rose to 39, which included over a dozen children.
According to an inquiry by the health authorities, most of the infected children had visited a private clinic of a local paediatrician named Dr Muzaffar Ghangar, who himself is an AIDS patient, in Ratodero for other ailments.
Ghangar, who is also employed at a public hospital in Ratodero, is accused of infecting more than 50 patients, mostly children, by repeated use of a single contaminated syringe.
The doctor has been arrested and is currently under police custody.
Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho said more blood screening camps are being set up in the district to speed up the process of detecting HIV positive cases.
Sindh health secretary Dr Saeed Ahmed Awan said the majority of those tested HIV positive were children and the reason for this was apparently a surge in infection rates across the country due to the use of unsanitary equipment, unsafe blood transfusion and rampant malpractice often at the hands of quack doctors.
According to UNAIDS, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across Pakistan and around 270,000 are practising in the Sindh province.