ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza on Sunday said that a 10-member team of World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical and professional expert would visit Pakistan to investigate the outbreak of HIV in an affected area of Larkana.
Pakistan is a considered a low-prevalence country for HIV but this month the news of hundreds of children and adults allegedly infected by an HIV-positive doctor in Larkana district made the headlines.
“After reviewing the situation, the government has contacted the WHO headquarters and asked their technical and professional support to investigate the Larkana HIV outbreak,” he said while addressing a news conference in the federal capital.
“A joint team of the WHO and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) will reach Karachi in the next two to three days,” the adviser said.
The team of around 10 experts will go to the affected areas and conduct a “proper investigation” along with local doctors, he added.
He said that the decision to invite the international experts was made to exactly reviewing the situation and to ascertain the cause, advise on mitigation measures and ways and means of avoiding future recurrence.
He said so far 21,375 people had been screened, out of which 681 people had been identified as HIV positive with case detection rate of 3.2%.
He added the most striking feature of this outbreak was the fact that children between the ages of 2-5 years were most infected followed by age group 6-15 years.
He said the federal government had assured the Sindh government of the federal ministry’s support in provision of HIV test kits, diagnostics, living support and establishing three more treatment centres at Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah and Hyderabad.
He said the federal ministry on his advice started communication with various United Nations agencies for a proper follow up and support to this outbreak and accordingly a high-level meeting was convened here with all UN agencies, Civil Society Organiszations and Sindh AIDS Control program (SACP) to deliberate upon the outbreak situation in Ratodero and coordinate a joint response.
He said that National AIDS Control Program (NACP) supported the provincial programme in the areas of blood screening and HIV treatment.
He added NACP is also providing assistance and support in specialized HIV investigations like CD4 (Lymphocyte) count and viral load testing by providing additional supplies and CD4 machines to Larkana.
Dr Zafar said NACP had supported the establishment of a Paediatric ART centre at Larkana by proving all reporting tools and HR (Data entry operator) in addition to the existing HIV treatment centre (adult) at Chandka Medical College Hospital.
He said that a NACP technical team was sent to Larkana to coordinate with SACP in the outbreak response investigation and management.
He added NACP was mobilising UN Partners including WHO, UINCEF and UNAIDS besides and Global Fund to effectively address and halt the outbreak.
Dr Zafar said he also visited along with Provincial Minister of Health the Regional Blood Centre, which was the main laboratory for supplying safe blood to the hospital of the region.
He added he visited the Adult ART Centre Larkana, where HIV patients are being provided diagnostic and treatment facilities for the last so many years with the support of National AIDS Control Programme.
The minister said he also visited the paediatric ART centre Chandka Medical College newly established soon after this outbreak, with the support of NACP and other partners.
Unfortunately, the high numbers of children between the ages of 2-5 years were reported in this outbreak, he added.
“We will not relent till we get to the bottom of this outbreak, provide treatment to each victim and help the Sindh health department put in place a system to avoid such unfortunate occurrences in the future.”
He said that the team of expert while in field started HIV screening on the one hand along with SACP, and held counselling sessions with the HIV-affected communities to ascertain the immediate cause of spread of HIV and to alley fear and panic spread in the communities on the other hand.
With additional input from APP