Story at a glance

  • A new outbreak of H.I.V. has hit children in Pakistan.
  • Originally blamed on one pediatrician, many suggest the problems highlighted by the incident are more widespread and require an overhaul of the Pakistani health care system.
  • “The only good thing about the outbreak has been that it laid bare the multiple flaws in the system," says one expert.

In Pakistan, the small city of Ratodero is now the epicenter of an outbreak of HIV that has struck more than 1,000 people, nearly 900 of them children. The outbreak is reportedly the result of reusing syringes.

Government officials initially blamed a single pediatrician, but the unsafe practices of reusing syringes and needles are so commonplace that officials say Pakistan’s entire health care system bears responsibility and is in dire need of better regulation, The New York Times reports.

“The only good thing about the outbreak has been that it laid bare the multiple flaws in the system that the government with support of U.N. agencies needs to address,” Dr. Fatima Mir, an infectious disease expert at Aga Khan University in Karachi, told The New York Times. 

Doctors and medical practitioners in Pakistan frequently don’t have what they need to prevent the spread of infection, according to Mir, who traveled to Ratodero as a first responder when news of the outbreak came out. 

Ratodero is home to some 36,000 people, and 1,112 have tested positive for HIV, including 889 children. Less than a quarter of the city’s population has been tested, and officials are concerned that the number of infected people will continue to rise. 

Police are investigating Dr. Muzaffar Ghanghro, the pediatrician identified by initial reports as the physician at the center of the outbreak. They have so far cleared him only of the charge that he intentionally infected his patients with the virus. The doctor has denied reusing syringes, which is illegal in Pakistan, but the medical malpractice investigation remains ongoing. Ghanghro’s private practice has been shut down, but he continues to practice medicine at a local government-run hospital.

Pakistan is one of only two countries where the wild polio virus persists despite the existence of a vaccine, the other being Afghanistan. Other treatable conditions such as rabies and dengue kill dozens each year. According to the United Nations, the number of people infected with HIV in Pakistan nearly doubled between 2010 and 2018, with some 160,000 people now testing positive.

Published on Nov 12, 2019