Pakistan doctor held after 437 children diagnosed with HIV
A few months ago, Fatima Emaan came down with a persistent fever. So her father, Syed Shah, took the infant to a few doctors, including a local child specialist in Ratodero, a small city in Pakistan’s south.
But the visits seemed only to worsen the 16-month-old girl’s condition. In February, a doctor told Shah his daughter was presenting the symptoms of HIV. On 1 March, her results came back. “They double- and triple-checked it and told us that Fatima is suffering from HIV,” Shah said.
Shah says his daughter was the first child to be diagnosed in what has become an HIV epidemic in the district, with doctors in the area on Friday declaring the number of infected people had crossed 500, including at least 437 children.
Police have arrested Ratodero’s child specialist, Muzaffar Ghangharo, and are investigating his role, including whether he infected anybody intentionally or recklessly.
Ghangharo, who has Aids, has been accused by at least 10 families of treating their children with used syringes, said Sartaj Jhagirani, a police officer in the city.
“He said that he didn’t do anything intentionally. Ghangharo said that in his statement to police. [But] four kids have died and their parents have blamed the doctor for killing them,” Jhagirani said. The specialist, whose medical qualifications are unknown, will be presented in court on 21 May.
Sikandar Memon, the head of the Aids control programme in Sindh province, said officials had screened 16,000 people from Larkana and at least 437 children and 100 adults had tested positive for HIV. “Sixty per cent are children less than five years,” Memon told the Guardian.
Locals described a mode of fear in the district as health workers test as many as 1,000 people each day to ascertain the scale of the infections. The figure was 450 positive cases on Thursday, but grew by at least 100 throughout the following day.
Imran Akbar, a doctor in the city who first diagnosed Fatima, said he expected the figure to rise. “These cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“An Aids control programme was established in 1995 in Sindh [province] but the authorities have given no information about this deadly disease neither to public nor informed about safe measures to doctors.”
He said most of the doctors in the town were untrained and many practised folk medicine. Diseases were often spread through the reuse of syringes, the piercing of noses and ears using unsanitary equipment and unsafe sex.
Shah, 31, said he admitted Fatima to hospital in his district, “but doctors failed to treat her in the best way”. “Health facilities here are pathetic,” he added.
He posted about his daughter’s condition on Facebook, which he says helped to spread awareness of the outbreak and drive people to get their children tested.
“You can see all equipment such as cannulas and syringes are mixed. And doctors don’t go for oral treatment, they use injections even for minor treatment.”
Fatima is now in hospital in Karachi. Shah said her condition was stabilising. “After being admitted there for a month she is better now,” he said.
Pakistan’s health ministry says it has 23,000 HIV cases registered across the country.