It seems that authorities are in deep sleep; sometimes we hear that rats are biting to the new-born babies in the hospitals, newly born babies dying in the hospitals for the non-availability of the oxygen and now shocking news hit the local and international media that at least 10 children suffering from thalassemia have tested positive for the HIV virus after allegedly receiving a transfusion of infected blood.
Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar said that she had instructed the DG Health to submit a detailed report and that a fact-finding committee would be set up to fix responsibility for this tragedy. She also promised action against unregistered blood banks and those who sold unscreened blood. But it seems that after every tragedy we are given with a lollypop to the people by forming an inquiry committee, which hardly produces the results or the low level staff usually made the scapegoat and big fishes escape. Ordering an investigation after any infamous incident and we feel satisfied that we have done our duty – this is our response to any self created crisis.
According to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram, six of the children belonged to the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Pims has offered them free-of-cost treatment and bone marrow transplants. Thalassemia is a hereditary blood disorder that prevents the production of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells which carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Government should act immediately due to the sensitive nature of the issue. Private clinics and other organisations have been spreading death and they need to be stopped immediately, else many more could be affected. Blood is life for a thalassemia patient; they need transfusions between one and three times a month. Their parents must ensure that they only get screened blood. These children’s condition requires sufferers to get regular blood transfusions, which makes the whole situation even more of an abomination. This is the state of our healthcare system and such is our regard for human life. Reports have also suggested that those suffering from thalassaemia are at increased risk of contracting diseases the like of Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV from the regular blood transfusions they must receive because of the prevalence of inadequately screened blood. Almost 80 percent of thalassaemia patients have reportedly contracted Hepatitis because of their blood transfusions. Whilst there are still some conflicting reports about these 10children being infected with HIV, the whole incident has highlighted the fact that there are huge gaping holes in the procedures required to ensure that patients receive properly screened blood. These are precious human lives, already facing misery because of their condition, and look how we take care of them.
Strict action will not suffice. Get the blood transfusion act in place. In 2007 provinces took the lead to formulate blood transfusion laws but were never implemented as we have to wait for disasters to take place before we do something positive. Children are caught up and victimized by those health care workers who should be arrested for such a crime. We wish these helpless children that they recover fully and lead, long healthy lives, Inshallah – which many thalassemic children do when given proper treatment.
Politicians know about the healthy facilities in the country, perhaps that’s why politicians and their family members go abroad for their medical treatment while people of this country continue to suffer. Poor oversight of blood supply is a problem for all needing regular transfusions. The World Health Organization says 13 million Pakistanis have hepatitis B or C and about 85,000 have HIV/AIDS. The government had no plans to test the hundreds of thousands of people who may have received infected blood because the problem was too entrenched. Many blood banks buy supplies from drug addicts who need cash. Pakistan has many private blood banks, but oversight is lax. It is a very serious matter when at one point we are fighting with the increasing cases of polio and on the other side we are so poor to provide the basic health facilities to the masses. We have failed to tackle the rapid emergence of polio, we seem ill-prepared to confront the looming threat of Ebola that is just a plane ride away, and now we have proved that we cannot even complete the simple procedural task of screening blood before injecting it into a patient. We are also facing the threats of being isolated and world health organizations and sub-ordinate organizations of United Nations are proposing the travel restrictions of Pakistani national and it would become very hard to travel on green passport. Pakistan is one of the only three remaining countries with the polio viruses but we are producing more polio leaving behind other two countries. It is a time to take serious measures.