In an unprecedented outbreak of HIV virus, hundreds of babies and toddlers have been affected in the province of Sindh, Pakistan.
According to The Guardian, children tested positive for the virus since the outbreak was discovered a month ago in Rotadero in Sindh province, with nearly two-thirds aged five or under.
The cause was discovered due to unqualified ‘quack’ doctors administering and sharing dirty needles for injections, intravenous drips and blood transfusions, which attacks a healthy immune system and leads to AIDS.
Pakistan director for the United Nations’ AIDS and HIV programme, Dr. Maria Elena Filio-Borromeo stated that she has not seen anything similar in the entire continent of Asia, she further stated that it’s just unprecedented, and a very unique kind of profile because of the increasing number of HIV cases found in children.
The children have been infected in a country where HIV treatment remains rare for the poor, and where 6,200 people died from AIDS in 2018.
The HIV outbreak amongst children was detected by a pediatrician in the area who was treating children with high fevers and found it difficult to shake off fevers and were not getting better even with the medicines.
The tests of all the eight children resulted in HIV positive. Since then 18,418 people have been screened and 607 have been found positive. Of those, 381 are aged five or under. The figure is expected to rise as screening increases.
Researchers are still trying to determine the exact source of the outbreak, but believe that the virus has been spread by contaminated needles used by the ‘quack’ doctors.
According to Dr. Filio-Borromeo, many local patients demand injections and drops when they are sick, believing administering drips are more effective than oral medications.
Unqualified quack doctors running backstreet clinics to fill gaps in Pakistan’s overstretched and underfunded public health system, are happy to oblige.
“Patients say: ‘If you will not give me a drip, I will go to another doctor,’” she said.
“Education is so critical. You can provide all this mass testing, all the treatment, but educate people.
First on the reduction in the demand of unnecessary injections.”
The United Nation estimates that approximately 150,000 people in Pakistan are HIV positive and the number keeps on increasing by 20,000 a year.
But only one-in-50 women and one-in-25 men have ever been tested.
Police in Sindh earlier this months said they had shut down a string of quack clinics and said they had arrested a doctor they accused of spreading the virus. The doctor has denied wrongdoing.
The region has been hit by an outbreak before. In 2016 more than 1,500 people were found to be infected, with most of them men linked to the area’s sex workers. Lax hygiene by quacks may have allowed the virus to spread from this high-risk group to the wider community, doctors believe.