SINDH/PAKISTAN : At a 30-minute drive from main Larkana city, an HIV screening camp has been set up in the dusty, minimally equipped, understaffed Taluka Headquarters [THQ] Hospital Ratodero.

Hundreds of people are in queue to get tested voluntarily, after watching news on television about the recent HIV/AIDS outbreak in the area.

The Sindh AIDS Control Programme [SACP] undertook a mobilisation campaign with the help of the Sindh Health Department, Lady Health visitors and local representatives of political parties to get people to have themselves tested.

Free of cost HIV tests are currently being carried out using Rapid Diagnostic Test [RDT] kits, with results available in under 30 minutes.

Since a few days ago, 19,081 have been screened, with 617 of them testing positive for HIV, according to the director general of Sindh Health Services.

The latest outbreak in unprecedented because it involves the general public - predominantly young children - who do not fall under the high-risk group for the deadly viral infection.

Many of the children who tested positive do not have HIV-positive parents.

The age group distribution among the reported  HIV infections reveals that the most affected age group is two to five years [55.4 percent] followed by six to 15 years [18.8 percent], 15 to 45 years [15.5 percent] and 46 years and up [2.4 percent] .

Most of the children were screened at the tertiary care facility which is struggling to cope with visitors.

The small town of Ratodero - with a population mostly from the lowest socio-economic segment  and comprising of Sindhi, Balochi and some Saraki speakers - is in a hopeless panic mode.

The numbers at the screening camp have been increasing thanks to word-of-mouth publicity and the fact that hundreds of  parents were regular visitors to the clinic of an HIV-positive doctor accused of spreading the infection to thousands of unsuspecting men, women and children.

Charging Rs.30 per patient, the accused doctor was the number one choice of many patients because he paid attention to their children and was not expensive.

Anaemia, pneumonia, diarrhea, persistent fever and cough were just some of the ailments that took the poor and, in some cases, well-to-do-patients to him.

He was also one of the doctors posted at the  THQ Hospital Ratodero as a pediatrician.

It took seven deaths - the youngest victim just seven years old - and a brave father's use of social media to highlight  Ratodero's HIV/AIDS outbreak.

The World Students Society thanks author and researcher Sumaira Jajja.


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