The impoverished parents of 16-year-old Robina Bibi in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) had never thought of selling their daughter// , but poverty forced them to look for buyers.
It was the only option that Robina's parents - Sakeena Bibi, 40, and her husband Izat Gul, 43 - could think of to raise money to treat their five children suffering from hepatitis C.
They struck a deal with a family they claimed as their relatives for about Rs.130,000 ($2,157) to pay off their debt of Rs.50,000 ($829) and spend the remaining amount on treatment of the ailing kids.
The deal, however, fell apart after Robina too was diagnosed with hepatitis C. "I have 10 children and six of them including three girls, between 9 and 16 years of age, are now hepatitis C patients," Sakeena said.
Sakeena, who lives in remote town of Dir, said her children have been suffering from the deadly disease for the past year.
"We cannot take them to even state-run hospitals in Peshawar (NWFP's capital), or any other cities where patients are provided free consultancy but have to pay for the tests from their own pocket," Sakeena added.
Senior NWFP minister Siraj-ul-Haq also conceded that hepatitis treatment is very expensive and it costs Rs.60,000 ($995) per patient.
Haq, whose six-party Islamic alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) rules NWFP, told DPA that his had set up an endowment fund and earmarked around $300,000 for treatment of poor patients.
However, he admitted that the fund was inadequate to cater to thousands of patients who cannot afford to pay for treatment of diseases like hepatitis C.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is cooperating with the Pakistan government in controlling the disease, estimates that patients of hepatitis B and C in Pakistan run into millions.
"We fear there are around seven million patients of hepatitis B and C all over Pakis
tan," said Khalif Bile, the country chief for WHO.
He said a free vaccine was provided to Pakistan for every newborn baby in the country to control hepatitis B.
Bile lauded Pakistan's national programme to control hepatitis infections, saying WHO was helping the government create awareness through a programme about safe blood transfusion and proper disposal of syringes used to vaccinate patients.
But for Sakeena and her husband, there is nothing more important than saving the lives of her children from hepatitis C, which is usually caused by drinking contaminated water.
Gul, a labourer who earns less than Rs.600 ($10) a week, says he feels helpless.
"How can I pay for the treatment (of my six kids), which is very expensive?" he said. He appealed to the government and philanthropists for funds to treat his ailing children.
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