Sanam’s one-year-old baby recently tested positive for HIV so she scrambled to have herself checked in case she was infected and had passed it while breastfeeding her second child, a two-year-old. She is holding a crumpled piece of paper, her test result. It says N—but she has no idea it means negative.
This 17-year-old mother is one of many others in Ratodero who are going through the agonising process of having their families tested for HIV in what is the worst outbreak in recent times in the province. The first cases surfaced a month earlier, on April 25, when 13 children were declared HIV-positive, unleashing a public health crisis.
Sanam and dozens of women came to Ratodero Taluka, Larkana on Wednesday, May 22, to get tested at the free temporary HIV/Aids camp set up outside a government building. They wait their turn with their children. It is 41 degrees.
The recent outbreak of aids and HIV has not just spread fear but confusion as well. Najma said she has visited several doctors for her five-year-old daughter’s fever which has stayed constant for a year now. Her neighbour told her that the child might be infected with HIV and she should keep her separate from the rest of her children. Najma didn’t let her five-year-old mix with the other children for a week till she brought her to the camp. Today she found out that her daughter didn’t have the virus to begin with.
Shazia had been to at least three doctors till she heard her son might have HIV. She admitted her son to hospital for three days until she took him to a doctor who gave her medicines worth Rs500 every day. She still wants to go get tested at Aga Khan University but couldn’t afford it as it costs Rs3,000 for a test.
Shazia doesn’t trust government hospitals anymore but doesn’t have a choice because private labs and clinics cost more.
Inside the building women roam around dazed and confused. There is a tiny room where the women who tested positive are supposed to go. Inside it, Faiza Bhatti is waiting for her turn to go to the screening room.
She says she often sees some doctors at the clinic who would ask her to bring packed syringes which they would later change with a used one.
When asked why she would let them do this, she said, “What choice did we have? We didn’t have money to pay for private clinics.”
Waheeda is collecting her four children, three of them are under five. After being asked if she or any of her children tested positive she hands over a couple of crumpled papers which look like lab results and says, “I don’t know, I don’t know what any of this means and what they’re saying. I’m going to go home and I’ll see what happens.”
Sanam is still waiting outside the building, she wants to ask the doctor if it is safe for her to breastfeed her toddler. She says someone told her that it might pass the virus on to her. “My baby has been crying for three days and so have I.”
Names have been changed to protect privacy.