At least 10 children – between the ages of 5 and 16 – already afflicted with thalassemia, have tested positive for the HIV virus after allegedly receiving a transfusion of infected blood.
The revelation, which sent shockwaves through the healthcare community on Wednesday, was confirmed by Thalassemia Federation of Pakistan Secretary General Dr Yasmin Rashid.
She told Dawn that all the children had tested positive for HIV, but she was unwilling to lay blame on any specific individual, saying that several people in Pakistan have been given unsafe transfusions. 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, Dr Akram said. 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. Anyone afflicted with the disorder needs regular red blood cell-infusions.
Dr Rashid told Dawn that she was shocked by the news. “I lobbied very hard for the promulgation of the Blood Transfusion Act nearly 10 years ago, but the law was never implemented properly. As a result, several people are given tainted blood and infected with diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, among others, she said. “All blood should be screened properly before it is given to someone else to avoid all kinds of diseases,” she stressed, but admitted that thalassemia patients were more vulnerable to such incidents because they had to get transfusions quite often and from several different places. Dr Akram was of the opinion that the 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.
I fear many more could be affected,” he said. Ayesha Abid, president of Thalassemia Awareness and Prevention in Pakistan (TAPP), was also quite upset over the incident. She told Dawn: “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,” she said. Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar told Dawn 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.