UN, WHO & UNAIDS join hands with Pakistan to combat HIV outbreak

As the intensity of the HIV outbreak heightens with more 600 cases of HIV positive patients, international healthcare organizations, including WHO, UN, UNICEF and UNAIDS join hands with Pakistan to combat the epidemic.

HIV outbreak

News Desk |

The United Nations has joined hands with Pakistan to “ascertain the source of the HIV outbreak and control it”, along with assuring the support of the international community and health bodies, who will assist the local authorities in combatting the epidemic.

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A team of medical experts sent by the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in the country after the recent HIV outbreak in Sindh, which has soared up to an alarming number of over 600 cases. Reports reveal that majority of the cases have been reported amongst the youth and children, and more than half of the infected children are below the age of five.

News reports of the HIV outbreak first emerged on 25th April, and three days later, a massive HIV screening programme was initiated.

The Deputy Spokesman of the UN Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, announced, “The WHO team will try to ascertain the source of the outbreak and control it, as well as provide its expertise in the areas of HIV testing, paediatric HIV treatment and family counselling.”

Addressing the press at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Deputy Spokesman Haq highlighted that before the recent HIV outbreak, throughout Pakistan, there were only 1200 children diagnosed with the infection, and obtaining antiretroviral treatment.

Read more: The Rise of HIV positive cases in Larkana: Where is the…

News reports of the HIV outbreak first emerged on 25th April, and three days later, a massive HIV screening programme was initiated.

International Bodies Join Hands with Pakistan

The team dispatched by the WHO consists of epidemiology experts, HIV clinical care team, emergency response management teams, and infection prevention and control experts, along with experts from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN).

Reports reveal that majority of the cases have been reported amongst the youth and children, and more than half of the infected children are below the age of five.

These experts have joined forces with the health ministry in Larkana, alongside other healthcare partners, including the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (FELTP), the Aga Khan University, UNAIDS and UNICEF.

In a statement issued by the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, the organization has assured its commitment towards aiding the local authorities in fighting the epidemic, which has been described as a “particular challenge.”

The statement notes, “So far more than 600 HIV cases have been identified. The majority are among children and young people: more than half those affected are children under the age of 5. This poses a particular challenge.”

Read more: HIV-positive doctor transmitted HIV among patients in Larkana: Sindh Health Minister

The WHO has stated that the key tasks for its team involve identifying the source of the outbreak, providing technical expertise, family counselling and providing required medical instruments and medicines.

The statement notes, “Key tasks for the WHO-led team will include: ascertaining the source of the outbreak and controlling it; providing technical expertise, particularly in the areas of HIV testing, paediatric HIV treatment and family counselling; and ensuring adequate supplies of rapid diagnostic tests and antiretroviral medicines for both adults and children, as well as single-use needles and syringes.”

The majority are among children and young people: more than half those affected are children under the age of 5. This poses a particular challenge.”

On 16th May, the provincial healthcare authorities had established a new antiretroviral treatment facility for children in Larkana.

Read more: Sindh Government finally goes after quacks

WHO-led Team Launches Probe

The team of experts dispatched by the WHO has begun its investigation into how the virus travelled across the region, alongside visiting and inspecting multiple HIV/AIDS treatment facilities for children in Chandka Medical College on Thursday.

The experts probed into the staff’s methods of treating the patients, alongside examining the facilities and medical protocols for handling AIDS patients. They were accompanied by the project manager of the Sindh AIDS Control Programme. On Friday, the team intends to visit the Ratodero Taluka hospital to examine the process of blood screening for HIV testing in-person.

On 16th May, the provincial healthcare authorities had established a new antiretroviral treatment facility for children in Larkana.

Prior to its visit to the hospital, the WHO-led team had a meeting with Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho and other officials at Darbar Hall. During the meeting, they reviewed the current situation of the HIV outbreak in Ratodero, and examined the initiatives taken by the local authorities so far.

A report by Dawn stated that Olive Morgan, leader of the WHO team, informed all those present at the meeting that the objective of their mission is to identify the causes of the HIV outbreak, and to examine where it travelled from.

Read more: AIDS in Sindh: PM Khan should take notice – Public Health…

Morgan stressed that WHO is willing to assist patients infected by the deadly virus, and the WHO experts and local healthcare officials exchanged several proposals on combatting the challenge. The team also provided Dr. Azra with AIDS medications.

Sindh Govt. Committed to Fighting HIV Outbreak

Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra stated that the HIV outbreak is a formidable “challenge”, and the health department has established blood screening camps in the area surrounding Ratodero to ensure free testing, alongside opening treatment facilities across hospitals.

Prior to its visit to the hospital, the WHO-led team had a meeting with Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho and other officials at Darbar Hall.

The Sindh Health Minister, accompanied by other officials, visited the blood screening facilities at the Ratodero Taluka hospital. Addressing the media, she informed that the WHO mission is investigating multiple diseases, and will be submitting a detailed report on HIV/AIDS to the Sindh government.

Dr. Azra stated that the international bodies and the Sindh government were jointly financing the initiatives undertaken to fight off the virus. She claimed that the authorities have observed a “drop” in the intensity of the virus, and added that “we are planning to systematically and scientifically spend the funds”.

Read more: Doctor held for ‘spreading HIV’

712 HIV Positive in Ratodero

Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra revealed that so far, the facilities have diagnosed 712 patients as HIV positive in the screening center at Ratodero. The Minister added that the WHO-led team and other healthcare organizations will assist the Sindh government in setting up high-end HIV treatment facilities.

Addressing the media, she informed that the WHO mission is investigating multiple diseases, and will be submitting a detailed report on HIV/AIDS to the Sindh government.

Dr. Azra added that during their mission, the foreign healthcare teams will visit multiple affected communities, blood screening camps, and treatment facilities to compile a detailed report of their findings on the cases that triggered the spread of HIV.

Dawn reported that during the ongoing screening tests at the Ratodero hospital, out of a total number of 286 people screened on Thursday, 15 new cases have been tested positive for HIV, of which 11 are children and four are adults: one man and three women.

Read more: Pakistan’s health care system in a crisis

The authorities, led by Deputy Director of Anti-Quackery division of the Sindh Healthcare Commission Ghulam Yaseen Vessar, have sealed nine healthcare facilities on the outskirts of Larkana after conducting raids.

Deputy Director Vessar informed that these facilities were either unfit for providing medical assistance or they were being operated by quacks. He added that three clinics have been warned to correct their mistakes or face punishment. Vessar stated that so far, the Sindh Healthcare Commission has sealed 189 healthcare facilities, while warnings have been issued to 61.

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