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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Congo virus cases rise in Sindh: Five more dead

Eight people have reportedly died from the deadly Congo virus in Sindh in 2019, with the number expected to rise exponentially as Eid-Ul-Azha approaches.

News Desk |

Another catastrophic failure of the public health system in Sindh comes in the form of five more deaths from the fatal Congo virus since the beginning of the month. There is a sudden fear of an increase in cases due to the fact that this deadly disease is borne by ticks present on the hides of various types of livestock that have increased interaction with human beings near Eid-Ul-Azha, which is now drawing near.

The “Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever”, commonly known as the Congo virus, is a fatal disease that includes vomiting, fever and bleeding into the skin as its symptoms. In its more severe manifestations, excessive bleeding often results in deaths.

The Sindh health department reports that 90% of the victims were men while 10% were women, and that those aged between 30 and 39 were most prone to the deadly sickness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Congo virus outbreaks have a fatality rate of 40%, but the death of five out of five of the victims in Sindh is just a small sample of the weak immune systems the people of interior Sindh have due to malnourishment, poor health standards and various public health issues.

The Congo virus first surfaced in the Crimea in 1944 and was named the “Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever.” In recent years, there have been outbreaks in Turkey and Kosovo amongst other countries, but all with fatality rates between 5% and 25%, significantly lower than Sindh’s. A 2010 outbreak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also only had a 10% fatality rate with up to 100 cases reported. Small outbreaks of the virus have become an annual occurrence in Sindh in the past 10 years, with 2011, 2014 and 2016 being years with significant deaths. Immediate steps must be taken to ensure that 2019 does not become another such year.

Read more: Asian Ebola Virus Hits Pakistan

The Sindh health department reports that 90% of the victims were men while 10% were women and that those aged between 30 and 39 were most prone to the deadly sickness. This dire issue is emblematic of a much larger failure of the public health system in the Sindh province.

Massive HIV Outbreak met with Lukewarm Response by Sindh Government 

In May, a massive HIV outbreak was detected in Ratodero in the district of Larkana in Sindh. As of June 7th, 761 individuals were infected with HIV while the antiretroviral therapy drugs in stock were only sufficient to treat 240 people. Most of those infected were children. The infection is believed to have spread largely due to reusing old syringes by negligent doctors, which has led to the infected paying a dear price.

The response by the Sindh government was delayed and insufficient. Co-chairman of the ruling party, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari even tried to downplay the scope of the problem by saying that “HIV is not a death sentence” and that the “conflation of HIV and AIDS” leads to the stigmatization of people. He announced an endowment fund for the victims, while still failing to see the need for larger structural reforms for better public health in the province that would help avoid such tragedies in the future.

Read more: Combating HIV/AIDS: Sindh allocates Rs1 billion for patients’ welfare

The WHO rated the outbreak a grade 2 emergency and sent teams to help mitigate the crisis, and while these steps are welcome, they do not contend with the systemic shortcomings that gave rise to this outbreak in the first place. The National Nutritional Survey 2018 carried out by experts at the Agha Khan University noted Sindh as the province with the highest rate of underweight and stunted children, factors that contribute towards the poor state of public health in the province.