Last October, there was a report about how more than 50 people who were under renal dialysis had contracted HIV at the Chandka Medical College Hospital (CMCH) in Larkana. According to the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, the actual figure was 56. From the date of release of the report, it is estimated that 7 people had died from complications related to HIV.
HIV crisis re-emerging in Pakistan, widespread stigma
As seen on Dawn, there was a history of patients undergoing blood transfusion at the hospital and there was apparently a lack of hygienic practices in both the hospital and private blood banks. Sources also mentioned a lack of screening procedures in place to monitor and test patients.
This crisis might have been triggered by an official indifference
Regrettably, one of the main reasons behind this crisis has been attributed to official indifference, one in which hospital staffs relied on dubious reports brought by patients before administering care, instead of adopting hygienic practices which might have screened out the patients who were suffering from communicable diseases.
Dr Hola Ram, the doctor who was in charge of the treatment center confirmed on the number of HIV cases, and said there are some patients who have refused antiretroviral therapy. Subsequently 2 out of 3 blood banks which were sealed after the incident were apparently allowed to continue their operations after being declared “safe” by Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority (SBTA).
In the beautiful city of Larkana, one growing social problem continues to tug at the growth of the city. Since 2003, there has been an ever increasing number of new HIV cases since the first outbreak caused by drug users. Other contributing factors include a large and growing population of sex workers, especially gay sex workers and a population afflicted by the drug problem. An infectious disease expert claims that “there is still silence” on this problem.
Karachi has thus been identified as one of the top cities in the world with growing HIV figures
This incident provide a somber account and potential explanation for why the HIV problem in Pakistan is growing so quickly. The number of people living with HIV in the country is estimated to be about 133,529, a relatively high figure which is constantly growing.
The country is expected to receive a new infusion of grants amounting up to US$35 million from Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, to encourage access to free medication and treatments. Dr Baseer Achakzai has said that the reasons for the growing infection figure is tied to politics, bureaucracy, stigma and inadequate facilities. Coupled with the growing social problem of male and gay sex workers, rampant drug taking in the country, the contagion effects of the disease is spreading.
However, there are some experts who used to work with National AIDS Control Program (NACP) saying that there is massive waste of capital in the way funds are being allocated. The comments are reinforced by former Sindh AIDS Control Program (SACP) Director, Dr Sharaf Ali Shah. The AIDS epidemic is very real, and without adequate treatment, the risk for further pestilence is very real.
Pakistan is facing a major health crisis now, and this problem is worsened by the existing social and political structure in the country. HIV is just one of the country’s problem, and funds are apparently not channeled towards real change. The public and private partnerships for healthcare is missing, and sources have repeatedly claimed that it is hard for the government to approve help and provide assistance to provinces.
With constrained resources, driven healthcare professionals might not be able to effect real change. Dr Achakazi’s final comment provided a glum future into the current crisis, saying that if GF stopped funding the program, there will not be a single tablet for HIV patients.