Campaign for better AIDS treatment access


Chennai : A network of HIV positive people has launched a countrywide campaign to promote access to treatment for patients, saying northern India in particular lags behind in this respect.

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The Indian Network for People living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) launched the campaign this week in Chennai, its headquarters, to mark 10 years of its existence.

The campaign is running in 102 districts in six high HIV prevalence states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. It ends in Lucknow Aug 31.

INP+ president R. Elango told IANS here: “Our focus, however, will be to engage our 85,000 members in spreading the message of universal access in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.”

“Twenty-one years after HIV was found in India, the north Indian states are yet to fully wake up to what can be achieved in AIDS treatment and care. There is adequate awareness in the southern states and the northeast.”

INP+ was founded in 1997 by 12 HIV positive people. It has about 85,000 members from 22 states and 166 districts. Its campaign aims to create awareness on treatment options, re-infection and reproductive healthcare issues.

The district level networks of HIV positive people are being induced to work in close collaboration with the local administration.

“This will also motivate vulnerable groups to come forward to know their HIV status,” said Elango.

At the inauguration of the campaign, care workers from the northeastern states also took part.

“In Manipur, the network began as a group of just five people in 1997, four among the founders are no more,” Ratan Singh of the Manipur Network of Positive People told IANS. Today this network has 1,500 members.

“When we started, stigma and discrimination was very great, families would not accept us. As many as 98 percent of infection among men was from re-used syringes (during substance intake).

“Today families have begun to accept the HIV positive status of its members. Counselling is still not very good in the northeastern states.”

Another important concern for INP+ is the availability of a second line of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drug treatment. Nearly 5,000 people on ART treatment in India need a second line of drug, Elango pointed out.

The government of India provides only a first line of free ART and 100,000 people throughout the country are on free ART.

“However, AIDS/HIV treatment is supposed to be life-long. Without a second line drug, how long can a patient go on?” Elango asked.

S. Rajasekaran, superintendent, Government Hospital for Thoracic Medicine (GHTM), Tambaram, Tamil Nadu’s main AIDS care institution, said: “The availability of ART has led to more and more people seeking treatment and services.

“A recent analysis done by us shows that around 3.9 percent of existing ART users (study done at the GHTM) may need a second line therapy.”

Supriya Sahu, the Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society project director, said: “In the past six months, the number of people on ART in Tamil Nadu has risen to 20,000.”

“The number of ART centres has gone up from seven to 19; children on ART have increased to 1,100,” she added. Tamil Nadu has 730 integrated counselling and testing centres.”