Once upon a time, Larkano, surrounded by sprawling guava orchards, horticultural patches full of roses and jasmine, was famed as the most beautiful, promising and prosperous town of the upper Sindh unmatched for its political and intellectual advancement, abundance of agricultural produces, thriving trade and varied recreational and entertainment spots. The Sindhi saying ‘Hujae nanro ta ghum Larkano’ (If you have fortunes, do visit Larkano) reflected the riches of the town in beauty and distractions. The town was known for the bustling grain trade and mercantile goods. The merchandise flowed into the town by boats through Ghar canal that connected it with the Indus River and sustained not only its trade but also irrigated orchards and gardens.
The town played a highly significant role in the Muslim struggle for a separate identity hosting Khilafat Conferences and welcoming towering leaders of the All India Muslim League and Congress including Muhammad Ali Jinnah, M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It remained the epicenter of the Khilafat Movement and the transitional resting place for migrants from India to Afghanistan under Silk Handkerchief Movement. According to a historic report, over 20,000 migrants transited through the town and were taken care of by local workers of the movement head by late Jan Muhammad Junejo.
In the post-independence years, the town was famously frequented by Iskander Mirza, General Ayub Khan and Ambassadors of major powers for hunting as the guests of Bhuttos. Bhuttos took the town to new heights of fame. The town came to be identified with this dynasty. Larkano basked in being the frequent destiny of kings, Emirs and Prime Ministers when Z.A. Bhutto was at the helm of the country’s affairs.
Larkano also witnessed four tragic funerals of Bhuttos from ZAB to his three children. With these heat rending murders, the town as well as the political party of the senior Bhutto became rudderless. The political mujawers built a huge structure sheltering the graves of the fallen Bhuttos and began reaping political dividends by exploiting the innocence and gullibility of the people of Sindh and their love for Bhuttos. Whilst the slogans – Bhutto is alive and martyred BB is with us – survived past many decades, the town and the people living in the district, like their fraternity all over Sindh, kept fast sliding into a gnawing abyss of under-development, powerlessness and poverty with all those crumbling civic amenities of education, healthcare, sanitation, drinking water and disease prevention.
The city has today again riveted the attention of the country and the world community along with international organizations but for different reasons. It is in the media spotlight for corruption, under-development, fatal diseases like Hepatitis B and C and now HIV. These diseases have not struck the town out of the blue. It was receiving loads of drug every year since decades. The drug peddlers were known to all and sundry. The number of drug addicts was on the continued rise. They had the fraternal spirit of sharing the syringes to inject the drug in their shrinking veins and infect each other with mortal diseases.
They sold their blood to the private blood banks with no blood screening arrangements, mushrooming around the 1500-bed Chandka Medical Complex and the Civil Hospital. Merchants of death, the Quacks were in the profession by thousands. According to an estimate, over 600,000 quacks have been running clinics in the country to the ridicule of health officials. Besides, the rural midwives, dentists, barbers and ear and nose piercing experts with their contaminated instruments have been on the loose leash. With the indifferent heaven, the District Health Officers, police and local public representatives looked the other way for reasons not so unfathomable.
The District was hit by a tsunami of Hepatitis-C a decade or so ago killing thousands. The government shook out of slumber and spent billions in purchasing vaccines locally or importing from abroad with no reliable and standard network of vaccination centers. The entire process was marred by corruption and abuse of authority by the doctors in charge of vaccines. The people were compelled to buy vaccines out of their meager incomes. In the early 2000s, this disease was estimated to have acquired epidemic proportions by hitting over 14 percent of the population in some adjoining districts of Sindh and Balochistan. This was not enough to twitch the conscience of the federal and provincial rulers.
In October 2016, the Medical Association of Pakistan reported that 56 patients of dialysis in the Chandka Medical Complex Larkano were found carriers of HIV. Out of them, 36 patients also tested positive for Hepatitis-C. The investigations revealed that this big hospital did not have any blood bank or blood screening facility. There was no improvement in the hospital. The attendants of a patient even today are advised to arrange blood from the private blood banks before the patient is taken into the operation theatre. Since last month as a result of blood screening, the number of HIV positive patients has gone into several hundreds. Dr. Sikandar Memon tasked with the blood screening campaign in the town says, over 16000 persons including children have undergone blood screening. Some 700 persons have tested positive for HIV. Almost 60% of them are children within the age bracket of 2-5 years. They caught the virus from their parents or through the contaminated instruments of Quacks, rural surgeons (barbers), nose and ear piercers.
Back in 1994, the HIV positive cases in Pakistan were estimated at slightly over 40,000. Today, the official figure of the patients was hovering around 170,000. The figure would go up manifold if the blood screening of the entire population of the country is carried out. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that some 20000 new cases of HIV were surfacing every year in the country and that Pakistan was closely following the Philippines in HIV cases in Asia.
The epidemic spread of fatal diseases like Hepatitis-B and C and HIV in Larkano showcases the terrible situation of healthcare facilities, lack of responsibility and accountability of the concerned officials, corruption and pilferage of funds all over Sindh. No campaigns for preventive care and precautionary measures or the education of semi-literate rural population about the spread of these diseases through contaminated syringes and instruments, or unprotected heterosexual and homosexual activities have ever been launched at the national or provincial levels, though our past rulers expended billions from the public exchequer for their self-projection in print and electronic media. This news of spread of HIV in Larkano has prompted non-governmental organizations including Sindh Vision to undertake public awareness campaigns in the district and adjoining areas.
Larkano, I know thy powerlessness, distress and sorrow and thy anger and anguish against the political mujawers and hypocritical heirs of Bhuttoism.
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