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Nearly 900 Children Test Positive for HIV in Small Pakistan City

Nearly 900 Children Test Positive for HIV in Small Pakistan City

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Doctors reusing syringes contributed to the outbreak, officials claim.

A small city in Pakistan is reeling after nearly 900 children have been diagnosed with HIV, according to reports. But healthcare leaders in the country warn that the numbers could be much higher as only a fraction of the population has been tested.

According to The New York Times, officials began investigating the spread of HIV in Rotadero, Pakistan earlier this year and found that many of the children who tested positive were going to the same pediatrician. The doctor, Muzaffar Ghanghro, reportedly manages care amongst the city's poorest families and charges 20 cents per visit, as many local parents make less than $60 a month. Officials claimed his reuse of syringes was the cause of the outbreak.

In April, local television journalist Gulbahar Shaikh broke the story and realized his daughter's pediatrician was the one implicated. After taking his family to a clinic for HIV testing, his 2-year-old daughter tested positive.

"It was devastating," Shaikh told The New York Times.

Dr. Ghanghro was arrested and charged with negligence, manslaughter, and causing unintentional harm, but hasn't been convicted. He maintained his innocence and denied reusing syringes in an interview. Of the city's 200,000 residents, roughly 1,100 people have tested positive and almost 900 of them are younger than 12 years old.

Officials claim that while Ghanghro's practice contributed to the outbreak, it may not be the sole cause. Various unsanitary practices in the area and other parts of the country, they said, have risked the spread of HIV, including many incidents with doctors reusing syringes and I.V. needles, barbers reusing razors, and roadside dentists using tools that aren't sterilized.

With lack of awareness and education about HIV taking hold in the impoverished city, many people fear and stigmatize those who have been diagnosed. For example, Shaikh said relatives won't hug his 2-year-old and other kids won't play with her. At schools, children living with HIV are sat separately from their peers.

"My wife and I, fortunately, we are literate. We hug and love our daughter," he said. "But our relatives stopped touching her and are now reluctant to visit us."

The situation in Rotadero reflects some troubling issues with HIV awareness and prevention at large. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth in the United States between the ages of 13 and 24 are the least likely of any age group to be linked to care in a timely manner. As of 2018, there were 1.7 million children (ages 15 and below) living with HIV or AIDS across the world, based on stats from UNAIDS.

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