Pakistan is dealing with a new health emergency with the HIV/AIDS outbreak. Nearly 700 people, most of them children, have so far tested HIV positive in Ratodero, Sindh, according to Pakistan's health officials. Authorities allege that this HIV outbreak started when local doctor Muzaffar Ghangharo, who has AIDS, infected patients in early April.
"Initial investigations reveal that used syringes are being repacked, which may not only grow significantly the number of HIV cases but also other diseases," said Federal Health Minister Zafar Mirza.
A joint 11-member rapid response team of health experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have just arrived in Pakistan to support the emergency response to the nation's “biggest” outbreak of HIV infections in a southern district where more than 700 people, mostly children, have been diagnosed over the past month, according to Voice of America.
Minister Mirza believes that reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan are only the tip of the iceberg. He says that official estimates put the number of HIV/AIDS carriers in the country at around 163,000. “But only 25,000 of them are registered with our national and provincial HIV/AIDS treatment centers, and out of them, merely 16,000 visit the programs routinely to receive their medicine,” the minister was reported as saying.
With questionable medical practices in private as well as public hospitals, Pakistan's health system is inadequate for dealing with serious health crises like the HIV/AIDS outbreak. However, the US CDC and WHO have had a lot of experience in fighting HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa where it continues to be the biggest contributor to disease burdens and premature deaths.
Pakistan needs to work with WHO and US CDC and use the opportunity to learn from their experience in terms of prevention and antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS. Such learning could also help improve the overall health care practices and outcomes in the country. Right now, time is of the essence in identifying all current cases for quickly controlling further spread of the disease.