Saturday May 25, 2019

The HIV Spread in Pakistan: Government And UN Investigating Causes

Some also blame unsafe injection practices by quack doctors for contributing to the spread of HIV. Government officials estimate about 600,000 unqualified doctors are unlawfully operating in Pakistan and 270,000 of them are practicing in Sindh. 

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HIV patients take part in an awareness session at Pakistan Society, a nongovernmental organization drop-in center, in Karachi, Nov. 30, 2013. Pixabay

Officials in Pakistan and the United Nations are investigating causes of a new outbreak of HIV infections in a southern district where nearly 400 people have been diagnosed in less than two weeks. Officials confirmed Saturday that nearly 80% of those infected are children, with nearly half of them under age 5.

Local media began reporting about the epidemic two weeks ago from Larkana, a district of Sindh province, which has already experienced three outbreaks in recent years. A local doctor who treated several patients with a single needle and syringe was blamed for spreading the virus, which causes AIDS.

The provincial government rushed teams of public health workers to the district, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, to quickly assess the situation and mobilize resources to curtail further spread of HIV. More than 9,000 people have since been subjected to screening in the affected district, and the process is continuing, Sikandar Memon, the provincial head of the AIDS Control Program, told reporters.

A UNAIDS spokeswoman told VOA that international partners had joined local teams to help quickly carry out an outbreak investigation and address the acute needs of the people infected with HIV, including immediately linking them to treatment, care and support services.

The spokeswoman, Fahmida Khan, said efforts were being made to ensure that unsafe injection and blood transfusion practices were being stopped. She also noted that there were unconfirmed reports of similar HIV outbreaks in surrounding districts.

FILE - Pakistani social activists carry placards during a rally to raise awareness on World AIDS Day in Lahore, Dec. 1, 2016.
Pakistani social activists carry placards during a rally to raise awareness on World AIDS Day in Lahore, Dec. 1, 2016. VOA

Focus of problem

Sindh, with a population of nearly 48 million, accounts for 43% of an estimated 150,000 people living with HIV in Pakistan.

U.N. officials say since 2010, there has been a 57% increase in new HIV/AIDS infections in Pakistan. They noted that among all identified HIV cases in Pakistan, 43,000 are females.

Last year, an estimated 20,000 people were newly identified with HIV in Pakistan and 6,200 people died of AIDS, according to local and U.N. officials.

Khan would not comment on the reasons for the high number of HIV infections among children and the potential causes of the latest outbreak in Larkana, saying “further investigations and epidemiological review is yet required and suggested.”

Provincial authorities also have launched a high-level investigation to ascertain the veracity of the allegations against the local doctor, who already has been taken into police custody.

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Pakistani and U.N. officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients, and men who have sex with men. Pixabay

Some also blame unsafe injection practices by quack doctors for contributing to the spread of HIV. Government officials estimate about 600,000 unqualified doctors are unlawfully operating in Pakistan and 270,000 of them are practicing in Sindh.

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Critics also blame lapses in Pakistan’s national health system, the low priority given to the problem, corruption, the recent abolition of the federal health ministry and the delegation of its functions to the provinces for the worsening health sector situation and the increase in HIV infections.

Pakistani and U.N. officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients, and men who have sex with men. (VOA)

Next Story

ISIS Announces New India and Pakistan Provinces

The "Islamic State Pakistan Province," in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer

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ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
FILE- An Islamic State flag is captured in this photo illustration. VOA

The Islamic State group says it has established a “province” in Pakistan, days after the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region.

Both of the divisions formerly fell under the “Khorasan Province” or ISKP — the name the Middle East-based terrorist group uses for its regional operations launched in early 2015 from bases in the border region of Afghanistan — according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats.

The “Islamic State Pakistan Province,” in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer this week in Mastung, and it reported shooting at a gathering of militants linked to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban militant group in Quetta.

Both the districts are located in violence-hit Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Several separatist Baluch groups and sectarian organizations also are active in the province.

ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
FILE – Rescue workers and army soldiers gather at the site of a blast at a vegetable market in Quetta, Pakistan, April 12, 2019. VOA

There was no immediate reaction available from the Pakistani government.

Islamabad maintains there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country. Pakistani military officials say an ongoing nationwide military-led “intelligence-based operation” is primarily aimed at denying space in Pakistan to extremists linked to any terrorist groups.

The group released no details about the boundaries of the territory it is now claiming. In previous Islamic State propaganda, all of Afghanistan and most of Pakistan, parts of modern Iran and Central Asia make up the so-called Khorasan Province. IS also has spoken about creating its own chapter for the Indian subcontinent.

Marketplace expolsion

IS also took responsibility for last month’s suicide blast in a marketplace in Quetta city that killed 20 people and left nearly 50 injured. The targets of the attack were members of the ethnic Hazara Shiite Muslim community.

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On Friday, IS declared in a statement via Amaq the creation of “Hind Province,” while taking responsibility for clashes with Indian forces in Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.

IS has increased attacks lately in the region, including taking credit for the group’s Easter Sunday first-ever bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.

Observers say altering its provincial structure and fragmenting the “Khorasan Province” by IS could be aimed at bolstering its credentials after losing its “caliphate” in Syria and Iran, where the terrorists at one point used to control thousands of miles of territory.

“As ISIS [one of several acronyms used for IS] seeks to build and restructure foundations of insurgencies across the globe after its losses in Iraq and Syria, it is attempting to recruit also from Pakistan, a country with an existing jihadi militant population,” tweeted Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Intelligence Group.

ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region. Wikimedia Commons

The suspected rebranding of ISKP comes as the United Nations earlier this week designated the “Khorasan Province” as a global terrorist, noting the group was formed in January 2015 by former members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who pledged allegiance to Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISIS/ISIL.

The United States has already blacklisted ISKP as a foreign terrorist organization, and American troops are conducting regular airstrikes against the group’s bases in Afghanistan with the help of local forces, killing thousands of militants.

Analysts say American counterterrorism airstrikes and clashes with the Afghan Taliban have prevented ISKP from expanding its regional influence and the rebranding strategy could have stemmed from those challenges.

“Khorasan chapter has been struggling to establish a footprint in Afghanistan and the region in general, and they may be following al-Qaida’s strategy to create regional affiliates,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, who heads Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace and Studies (PIPS). (VOA)