ISLAMABAD  -   Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Dr Zafar Mirza Sunday said that a 10-member team of World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical and professional experts would visit Pakistan to investigate the outbreak of HIV in affected area of Larkana.

Addressing a press conference, the minister said that after reviewing the situation federal government contacted the WHO Headquarters and asked their technical and professional support to investigate Larkana HIV outbreak.

He added that based on this request, a WHO high level mission was going to visit the affected area. He said the decision to invite international experts was made to exactly reviewing the situation and to ascertain the cause, advise on mitigation measures and ways and means of avoiding future recurrence.

He said so far 21,375 people had been screened, out of which 681 people had been identified as HIV positive with case detection rate of 3.2 percent. He added that the most striking feature of this outbreak was the fact that children between the ages of 2-5 years were most infected followed by age group 6-15 years.

He said the federal government had assured the Sindh government for federal ministry’s support in provision of HIV test kits, diagnostics, living support and establishing three more treatment centres at Mirpur Khas, Nawab Shah and Hyderabad.

He said the federal ministry on his advice started communication with various United Nations agencies for a proper follow up and support to this outbreak and accordingly a high-level meeting was convened here with all UN agencies, civil society organizations and Sindh AIDS Control programme (SACP) to deliberate upon the outbreak situation in Ratodero and coordinate a joint response.

He said National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) supported the provincial programme in the areas of blood screening and HIV treatment. He added NACP was also providing assistance and support in specialised HIV investigations like CD4 (Lymphocyte) count and viral load testing by providing additional supplies and CD4 machines to Larkana.

He said the NACP had supported the establishment of a Paediatric ART centre at Larkana by proving all reporting tools and HR (data entry operator) in addition to the existing HIV treatment centre (adult) at Chandka Medical College Hospital.

Dr Zafar said that NACP technical team was sent to Larkana to coordinate with SACP in outbreak response investigation and management. He added NACP was mobilising UN partners including WHO, UINCEF and UNAIDS, besides Global Fund to effectively address and halt the outbreak.

Dr Zafar said he also visited along with provincial minister for health the regional blood centre, which was the main laboratory for supplying safe blood to the hospital of the region.

He added he visited the Adult ART centre Larkana, where the HIV patients were being provided diagnostic and treatment facilities for the last so many years with the support of National AIDS Control Programme.

The minister said he also visited newly-established paediatric ART centre Chandka Medical College soon after this outbreak, with the support of NACP and other partners. Unfortunately the high numbers of children between the ages of 2-5 years were reported in this outbreak, he added.

Dr Zafar said he visited the HIV screening camps in Ratodero along with experts’ team, where he remained for a time to see the effected children and their families were screened at various sites.

He assured that the federal government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, was on top of the situation in Rattodero. “We will not relent till we get to the bottom of this outbreak, provide treatment to each affectee and help Sindh Health Department put in place a system to avoid such unfortunate occurrences in the future.”

He said the team of experts while in field started HIV screening on one hand along with SACP and also held counselling sessions with HIV affected communities to ascertain the immediate cause of spread of HIV and to alley the fear and panic spreading in the communities.

He said with passage of time large number of people turned up for screening camps to get themselves and their children tested for HIV. The peculiar feature of this outbreak was the identification of very high number of children affected by this disease.

He said an HIV outbreak was reported, by the local media, in Ratodero Taluka, district Larkana on April 25 as 15 children with complaints of persistent weight loss and fever, had been tested positive for HIV by a local Physician in Ratodero.

 

Blood samples of these 15 children were later sent to a referral laboratory of the SACP and as per the report shared by SACP, three of 15 cases were confirmed by Rapid Diagnostic Test on the first day.

On my direction, the NACP immediately responded to a request made by SACP to send a team to join the response and help in providing HIV screening kits. The national programme immediately sent 3000 HIV test kits to Ratodero.

Dr Zafar Mirza said the federal government would stand in support of provincial health departments to meet any challenge anywhere in the country.

He said several innovative steps were being taken to improve the health system of the country and to ensure provision of best medical services at hospitals.

He said the government had also reduced the prices of medicines to facilitate the patients and taken measures to ensure availability of all medicines in the markets.

The minister assured that the price increase in some medicines would gradually be decreased.

He said the ministry was working efficiently in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to streamline and improve the healthcare delivery system.

He added PM Khan was going to make a major announcement related to the health sector in coming days.

He said the prime minister after paying surprise visit to DHQ hospital in Sargodha and inspecting different wards of the hospital, decided to bring reforms in the health sector.

He said that following directions of the PM Khan, the government would improve standard of the public hospitals in order to satisfy the patients.

He said that Global Fund would support the health sector to fight epidemics, HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria diseases to attain Sustainable Development Goals.