After her husband died of AIDS (possibly after passing it on to her), 28-year-old Saraswati Bai (name changed), who could not even provide two square meals to her HIV-positive son Raju (8) regularly, had almost given up hope of having him treated in her small village, some 24 kms from Dhar. But, thanks to the ART Centre at M Y Hospital here, she hopes to see her son growing up as a normal boy.
Ramlal (38), an industrial labourer from a slum in Indore, had just about lost hope of leading a good life when he was infected with HIV last year. A visit to an NGO and then to ART Centre later, Ramlal (name changed) is today leading a comparatively healthy life and has regained substantial weight over 10 months.
THESE ARE just two examples from the hundred of HIV/AIDS patients who have benefited from the Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) Centre set up at the MY Hospital here a little over a year ago. This centre is only first of the two centres in the entire State. Another ART Centre was opened in Jabalpur recently.
With a mere five patients on day one (October 18, 2005), the ART Centre at MY today has 959 registered patients who each receive free medicine worth Rs 1,500 every month. And it really helps, as majority of the patients are from lower economic group.
This is part of the National AIDS Control Society (NACO) initiative, which started with eight ART Centres on April 1, 2004, and now, armed with various grants and donations from WHO and global NGOs, has more than 90 centres all over the country.
“When the Centre started last year, we were expecting about 300-400 patients. But due to awareness and word of mouth publicity, more and more patients are coming everyday,” ART Centre in charge Dr V P Pandey told Hindustan Times.
“We register all patients who have a CD count of less than 350 and show related symptoms,” Dr Pandey said, adding, “In earlier months, only male patients came to us, but now they are bringing their wives and children too.”
The Centre, situated behind MY Hospital and not inside the main building as per NACO guidelines, is currently housed in almost a shed-like structure. With practical problems like lack of space and inadequate infrastructure, the Centre manages with whatever is available, Dr Amaresh Dubey, medical officer at the Centre, said.
A counsellor and a pharmacist have been appointed and will be joining soon. There is long wait yet for the CD4 counter, necessary for an ART Centre; but there is no shortage of medicines.
“As of today, we have ample drugs to cater to all registered patients till six months. And this includes paediatric dosage and also drugs for Parent to Child Transmission (PTCT),” Dr Pandey adds.
Of the total registered patients, the data shows that almost 60 per cent are male adults, 30 per cent female adults and the rest children (below 14 years). Moreover, the patients are not just coming from Madhya Pradesh but also from neighbouring districts of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Dr Nitin Sahu, an AIDS consultant at the Centre, said, “People are slowly realising that ART delays the onset of AIDS and the common perception about HIV is changing from being an immediately fatal scourge to somewhat more manageable chronic illness.”
“Another important factor is regularity. Our counsellor would be doing it, but the NGOs play a bigger role in maintaining regularity of medicines of patients and also in finding a suitable guardian for children with HIV so that they continue the treatment after their parents’ death,” Dr Sahu said.
ART suppresses viral replication, which restores the balance within the immune system, delays onset of AIDS and overall improves quality of life. Hence, a person initiated for ART leads almost a normal life and can go back to his profession/work without anybody knowing about his illness.
Dr Sahu points out that the social stigma attached with the disease would be difficult to wipe out in a hurry, but ART at least gives them a new lease of life with dignity.
“But our predicament is unfortunate. Today we have 959 registered patients; tomorrow the number may cross 1,000. The more it increases, the more concerned we ought to be,” Dr Sahu adds woefully.