The Sindh AIDS Control Programme, SACP, has inducted four members of faculty at AKU into the joint response against the outbreak of HIV in Larkana, Sindh.
Experts from the University’s departments of paediatrics and child health, medicine, biological and biomedical sciences, and community health sciences will collaborate with the World Health Organisation, federal government and other public and private sector partners, to investigate the spread of the disease and to recommend preventive measures.
To date, over 600 cases of HIV, the majority of which are children, have been detected in Larkana, according to the World Health Organisation. Prior to the outbreak, only 1,200 children across the country had been diagnosed with HIV.
“This disease can be transmitted to children in a number of ways,” said Dr Fatima Mir, an assistant professor in paediatrics and child health. “It can be passed on through a lactating mother who carries the virus, a blood transfusion, or an infected surgical instrument or syringe.”
AKU’s Drs. Fatima Mir, Faisal Mahmood, Hani Hassan AbidiDrs Mir, Mahmood and Siddiqui with Programme Manager, SACP, Dr Sikander Memon and Special Secretary Health, Dr Hafizzullah during a press conference in Larkana, and Rehana Siddiqui are spearheading efforts to set up camps in affected areas, train staff to provide screening and care services, enable the analysis and categorisation of strains of the virus, and to determine the cause and extent of the outbreak.
"The outbreak is unusual not only in its magnitude, making this one of the largest in the world, but also in that almost all the cases are children, said Dr Faisal Mahmood, associate professor, section of infectious diseases. “This brings with it unique challenges such as ensuring these families are not stigmatized in the face of the ongoing media storm and a lack of understanding about HIV at all levels."
Dr Mahmood added that the team have been involved in all efforts to tackle the challenges of the outbreak and are actively conducting sessions with general practitioners and the public on stigma reduction, along with setting up a new HIV treatment center.
Dr Hani Hassan Abidi, assistant professor in the department of biological and biomedical sciences, stressed on the importance of the research the team has been carrying out. “Our analysis will help us in understanding different HIV transmission networks and associated risk factors, which can aid in deciding where to channel the interventions and preventive measures to slow down, if not halt, the spread of the current outbreak,” he said.
“The University has a great deal of experience in outbreak investigations in a variety of settings inside and outside hospitals as well as in the field,” Dr Rehana Siddiqui, an associate professor in community health sciences, commented. She has been involved in a number of investigations into the outbreaks of diseases such as human influenza, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis.
Infected individuals will also be monitored via a geographical information system (GIS) by the Sindh Aids Control Programme to ensure that they are going for treatment and taking necessary precautionary measures.
The University’s efforts to probe and halt the transmission of communicable diseases such as HIV, typhoid and malaria are in line with goal three of the global Sustainable Development Goals which calls for the eradication of such diseases by 2030.