Killing our own children

There is no great river of progress springing from Ratodero

Muhammad Hamid Zaman April 13, 2021
The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

There is no great river of progress springing from Ratodero. In fact, as far as health of young innocent children is concerned, it is a sea of evil. The party claiming the banner of progress and equality — that has been in power in Sindh for nearly a generation — is complicit and guilty in killing the children of Ratodero. There is no accountability, plan, or vision to tackle an HIV outbreak that is spinning out of control. Instead of remorse, and a resolve to change, what we hear is denial, blaming others and deflection. Maybe this is what progress in the 21st century looks like.

The HIV outbreak — which is likely to lead to thousands of preventable deaths of innocent young children in the district that has produced the successive leaders of the party in power in Sindh — was in the news yet again. This time, in a long read by a physician-writer and professor at Columbia University, Dr Helen Ouyang. It is hard not to cry or scream in anger while reading the story that was published in The New York Times on March 31, 2021, (titled, “The City Losing Its Children to HIV”). The writing is sharp, the imagery vivid and the message clear: we are killing our own children. But before the nationalists jump to a conclusion about an international conspiracy maligning the great progressives of Sindh, let it be known that several local journalists, in print and on TV, have been talking about the story for at least two years. The result is the same — screaming and shouting from some local health officials, denial from others, and hollow and empty promises from the top leadership.

Shame on all of them.

The spread of the disease among children is through malpractice which, in this particular case, happens to be through reusing injection needles. There is no technical complexity here, no new science to be discovered. Needles are not expensive, and there is absolutely no reason for them to be reused, except if the doctors, nurses and health staff are simply not qualified to be in the sacred profession, and those in charge of cracking down on the malpractice not concerned about the lives of poor children.

Shame on all of them.

As we slowly try to inch our way out of Covid, our best bet is through vaccination. There is no question that the vaccination rollout in the country has been painfully slow, chaotic and the direction remains murky. But given what happens in our cities, (even those famed for giving us the most progressive leaders!), a continued threat looms large. What is to say that a community that is unable to protect its weakest from reused needles in HIV treatment will do any better for Covid? What is to say that a few months or years from now, we will not be losing our people and our future to medical malpractices and malice towards the poor that continue to proliferate in the heartland? And that takes me to my final point: while health may be a provincial matter, decency is not. What is stopping the Governor of Sindh to say that this is unacceptable? What is stopping more members of the provincial and National Assembly to say how we can let this happen to our own and that we need to have an inquiry and a commission to fix this right now? What is stopping the powerful talk-show hosts and talking heads to keep this issue in the news, and pressure the provincial health authorities to change course? What is stopping all of us to demand that this can no longer be the norm, and that children in Larkana and in every village, and small town and large city cannot be killed by our corruption and negligence?

And if we do not have the will or the time to do it — shame on all of us.

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