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India betters world in meeting HIV target

Late to start but India is now ahead of the rest of the world in providing treatment to people with HIV.

delhi Updated: Oct 01, 2009 00:56 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Late to start but India is now ahead of the rest of the world in providing treatment to people with HIV.

In less than four years, the number of people on free antiretroviral therapy (ART) to treat HIV that causes AIDS has risen 12-fold — from 20,000 adults in 2006 to 270,000 in August 2009.

It took the rest of the world five years to register a 10-fold increase, with 4 million people having access to HIV drugs, reports the World Health Organisation’s Towards Universal Access 2009 report released on Wednesday.

In India, 30 per cent of the HIV patients in need of treatment are provided free medical aid by the government. Though it is short of the 40 per cent coverage globally, the rapid scaling up of the treatment programme has earned the country praise from UNAIDS.

India started treating people much later than the rest of the world but was already exceeding treatment targets, said Dr Charles Gilks, country coordinator, UNAIDS India.

“India’s ART programme is like a juggernaut, slow to start, but if the financial momentum is met, it will be unstoppable.”

An estimated 2.3 million people in India have HIV. Globally, 33 million people have HIV, 2 million of who are children.

India has 16,500 children under 15 on paediatric doses, and another 644 adults on second-line treatment, meant for people who become resistant to first-line treatment drugs.

“With National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO) target to treat 300,000 people by 2012 almost reached, we plan to scale up the project to treat 600,000 people by 2016,” said Sujatha Rao, director general, NACO. Rao will takes over as the Union health secretary on October 1.

India’s ART programme is now rolled out from 223 centres.

“We are tracking 800,000 people registered at these centres,” said Dr B.B. Rewari, National Programme Officer (ART), NACO. They are regularly tested and put on treatment as soon as they need it.

ART drug prices have dropped significantly during the past year. The second-line treatment, though, remains expensive.

“First-line drugs cost Rs 4,500 per person per year, but second-line therapy costs Rs 60,000 per person per year. One third of NACO’s Rs-11 billion budget goes into treatment,” said Dr Rewari.

The rising budget, warned Gilks, had become a big challenge. “As treatment cost goes up, prevention gets left.”

To control the spread of HIV, comprehensive prevention as well as treatment is needed, he said.