Because of the lack of awareness and the fear of it spreading, many children are being kept in isolation by their alarmed families. One resident of the city said that people "have stopped visiting us. They won't even have a meal with us."
Parents and health officials have been raising the alarm after hundreds of children in a small city in South Asia were tested positive for HIV. And there was one thing common between many of these children who were infected; they all had the same pediatrician in the city of Ratodero, in Pakistan.
Since the outbreak was confirmed in Ratodero in the month of April, nearly 900 children and about 200 adults have tested positive for the virus, as reported by Independent. Roughly 200,000 people live in the city of Ratodero and less than 25 percent of them have been tested so far. Health officials are worried about the current number of infected people eventually increasing as more people are tested.
The potential epidemic has become a grave cause for concern as out of 1,100 residents tested positive, 900 of them are less than 12 years old. These little children are now living with a life-threatening medical condition that has no cure.
Many of these infected children were patients of Dr. Muzaffar Ghanghro. The pediatrician has been accused of reusing the same syringes on children multiple times. Ghanghro has been taking care of the medical needs of numerous families in the area as he charges less than a dollar per visit, 20 cents to be exact, according to Out. Since many of the families are surviving on less than $60 a month, they have been regular visitors of Ghanghro.
One father, Imtiaz Jalbani, had the gut-wrenching plight of seeing four of his six children tested positive for HIV. All of his children were treated by Dr. Ghanghro and Jalbani has even claimed that he saw the doctor once rummaging through a bin, searching for an old needle to use on his 6-year-old boy. The father has tragically lost two of his youngest children, among the four who came out positive after the test, as reported by the Daily Mail.
Earlier, Dr. Ghanghro was arrested and charged for negligence and manslaughter. However, he has not been convicted yet. It was reported by The Wire that the rogue pediatrician is still practicing at a hospital. However, the pediatrician insists that he is innocent, claiming that he might not be the only source of the outbreak. In a previous report by CNN, Dr. Ghanghro's lawyer also said that his client "has been made into a scapegoat for the larger crisis in the region."
Although it is against the guidelines, other doctors in Pakistan have also been frequently reusing syringes "especially among the poor," said Quaid Saeed, HIV/AIDS advisor to Pakistan’s National AIDS Control Program, as reported by The Washington Post.
Werner Buehler, senior fund portfolio manager at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, had stated, "I find it hard to imagine it’s just one syringe or one doctor or just one batch of syringes."
However, this does not rule out Ghanghro's negligence as numerous patients of the doctor have accused him of reusing the same drip without replacing the needle for 50 children. Even though several of the parents asked the doctor to use a new syringe, he allegedly told them they were too poor to have their opinion acknowledged.
A local TV journalist, Gulbahar Shaikh was the one who broke the story in April. When he took his family to a clinic to test for the virus, he had the heartbreaking realization that his own daughter, just 2 years old, was one of those infected. Shaikh told The New York Times, "It was devastating."
Along with negligent doctors, even unhygienic barbers and dentists who don't follow protocol can be an aid to further fueling the outbreak. "Unless these quack doctors, barbers and dentists are not checked, the number of incidents of HIV infection will continue going up," said Imran Akbar, the first doctor to bring the outbreak to light.
Over the past few months, the Pakistani government has been shutting down illegal blood banks, clinics, and doctors, who have been reusing the same needles. But ever since the media has been slowing down on the coverage of Ratodero's epidemic, Fox News reported that clinics have opened their shutters once again and restarted operations.
The roughly 900 children affected so far are being kept away from their friends and even completely isolated, as many believe that the virus can spread by mere touch, due to lack of awareness on the disease.
Soon after the testing began, one Hazar Khan Seelro in Ratodero was saddened by how his fellow villagers stopped shaking his hand after five people in his family were tested positive. "Villagers have stopped visiting us," Seelro said. "They won't even have a meal with us."
Possibly, as more families are tested in due time, the number of residents who are forced into this plight is only likely to increase.