Be bold while treating HIV/AIDS patients, Andhra docs told

By Sahil Makkar, IANS

Hyderabad : Lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS amongst even the educated is not new, but what happens when doctors themselves refuse treatment to HIV positive people for fear of contracting the virus?

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That is where the Bold Doctors Club steps in and hopes to make a difference.

Alarmed by the increasing number of cases of doctors turning away HIV/AIDS patients, NGOs in association with the Andhra Pradesh government have set up the club to sensitise medical professionals about the disease and the plight of people suffering from it.

Just last week, a newspaper here reported that a pregnant woman admitted to a private nursing home in Kurnool district was forced to leave when she was found to be infected with the virus.

There were many other cases.

Said G. Asok Kumar, project director of the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (APSACS): “Most doctors in the state were refusing to admit HIV positive patients in their hospitals, forcing us to take stringent action.

“We constituted the Bold Doctors Club with branches in all 23 districts under the Be Bold campaign. Doctors who are willing to treat and care for HIV positive people are part of the club.”

The Be Bold campaign was launched in Andhra Pradesh by APSACS on Dec 1, 2006, covering all villages and cities. It involves all sections of people and urges them to undergo tests to ascertain their HIV status and fight against the stigma related to AIDS.

According to Asok Kumar, physicians associated with the Bold Doctors Club are trained to handle HIV positive patients.

“At present, 300 doctors from medical colleges and around 3,000 doctors from primary health centres (PHCs) are associated with the club. We have been conducting extensive meetings with officials of the Andhra Pradesh Private Nursing Homes Association to join us in battling AIDS,” he said.

Giving his perspective on the problems confronting AIDS patients and health workers, G. Suresh Kumar, chief medical officer of an HIV/AIDS Care and Support Centre in Anantpur district, said doctors refuse patients mainly for their own vested interests.

“They privately treat only those who can spin money for them. The other dominant reason could be lack of awareness among doctors who completed their studies before the disease actually hit the country in 2000.

“They are scared of contracting the disease while treating the patients as they are exposed to their blood.”

He narrated an incident when the medical superintendent of a government hospital forced him to discharge an HIV positive patient without due treatment.

A local NGO activist recalled how a doctor operating on a pregnant HIV positive woman begged his colleagues to save his life after a needle with the blood of the patient slipped and landed on his hand.

“The doctor was petrified although he knew it would not make him HIV positive. For the next three months he didn’t take up a single patient until he was declared HIV negative. He then vowed not to treat such patients,” the activist told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Hoping to make a difference, the Be Bold campaign has also adopted the Zero By Seven concept to reduce the number of cases of HIV transmission from pregnant mothers to their children by the end of the year.

The aim of the concept, which was adopted on Jan 1, is to identify all pregnant women who are HIV positive, support them during pregnancy, ensure institutional delivery and administer drugs to treat AIDS.

“For this purpose, networks of outreach workers were established in 80 subdivisions by July 2007,” Asok Kumar said.

He added that all doctors in the PHCs and interested private practitioners have been trained in conducting deliveries of HIV positive women in a series of training programmes since August 2007. About 40,000 auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) have been trained in a period of two months.

Andhra Pradesh accounts for 500,000 of India’s estimated 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients. The highest number of AIDS patients in the state is found in the West Godavari, East Godavari, Guntur and Prakasam districts.