India needs to integrate health services: UNFPA official

By Azera Rahman, IANS

Hyderabad : An integrated approach to tackle multiple health problems “in one go” is the need of the hour in India, says a top official of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

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“There is polio, high maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and a whole range of other issues in the health sector in India which need attention. What is suggested, thus, is an integration of services to tackle more than one health challenge in one go,” Purnima Mane, deputy executive director of UNFPA, told IANS in an interview.

Giving an example, she said that in the US, even if someone goes to a doctor for a minor cold, he or she is asked a whole lot of other questions.

“For instance, if you are a woman, they will ask if you have a pain in your breasts, knowing the high risk of breast cancer these days. They will ask questions about any family history of a particular disease and the likes.

“This should be done in India as well, so that along with treating one illness, another one is being prevented or detected early so that it can be nipped at the bud. Health check ups must be extensive,” she said.

According to Mane, one of the major issues that India faces today is the huge number of people born HIV positive.

“In India, there is an increasing number of people who are born HIV positive. Thus this population grows up to be a vulnerable young lot who stand a high chance of being infected with AIDS in future,” she said.

India has more than 2.5 million HIV positive people. According to a 2006 UNAIDS study, 39 percent of these are women and according to both UNFPA and WHO, between the age group of 15-24, women are twice as much affected than men.

With HIV/AIDS being one of the most discussed topics at the recently concluded Fourth Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSH) in Hyderabad, Mane said it is a pity that treatment is still not accessible to everyone.

After the first line of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was made free, those patients who have developed resistance towards it are now demanding that the second line treatment should be made free as well.

This is because lack of competition among the handful of pharmaceutical companies involved in making the drug has made second line ARV treatment very expensive.

“Although UNFPA is not directly involved in the process of making AIDS treatment and drugs free or subsidised, UNAIDS and WHO are working towards it.

“While the reasoning behind not making second line ARV treatment free – that the number of patients in need of it is not high enough – sounds absurd, but we have to think of a pragmatic solution keeping the market forces in mind,” she said.

Mane said pharmaceutical companies were not keen on making a drug whose demand was not very high but subsidies and tax waivers to these companies could bring out a solution.

She also said that fighting discrimination against people affected by HIV/AIDS could go a long way in actually preventing people falling prey to it.

“Acceptance of HIV/AIDS is not a challenge in India but there is still a lot of discrimination against those affected. This stigma prevents people from coming out in the open and getting adequate information to prevent further infection,” Mane said.