Matunga resident Manish Mehta (name changed), 45, was diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1992.
Five years later, when Mehta was asked to begin Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) - a treatment that includes a combination of drugs - it left him searching frantically for one of the prescribed drugs.
Back in 1997, the antiretroviral drugs were not just expensive but also unavailable in India. Mehta had no choice but to import the drug from England. "It cost me Rs 21,000 a month," he said.
Fourteen years on, the same drug is available here for Rs 500.
"The cost of the drugs has reduced drastically as Indian firms are producing them. India has the ability to provide them at 1% to 5% of the international price," said Dr Iswar Gilada, secretary general, Aids Society of India. Of the 22 antiretroviral drugs available globally, India is producing 18, said doctors.
The early detection of HIV, regular and better accessibility of relatively less costly drugs and more treatment centres have improved life expectancy, said doctors. This is evident from the latest data released by the government-run Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS), which shows that the number of Aids-related deaths in the city has dropped from 233 in 2007 to 15 this year (January-October 2011). "The life expectancy of HIV patients has risen from eight to 10 years in 2008 to 20 to 25 years," said Dr S Kudalkar, chief of MDACS. According to the International AIDS Society, a patient can survive 35 to 40 years provided the infection is detected early on and treatment begins soon after.
"Drugs have more convenient doses and are less toxic so patients adhere to treatment," said Dr DG Saple, HIV/Aids specialist at Breach Candy hospital. From popping 15 to 20 tablets a day, patients now need to take one or two tablets a day.
Government-run ART centres are also making treatment affordable and accessible.
Ahmednagar resident Prashant Yende was detected HIV positive in 2001, but he started ART only four years later. "There were no government centres and private hospitals were unaffordable," said Yende, president of the Network of Maharashtra People with HIV, a community-based group. "I could start my treatment only after the state opened its first ART centre in 2004."
Today, there are 54 ART centres in the state of which seven are in Mumbai; two more have opened recently.
As HIV patients are vulnerable to opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and fungal infections, these centres are also compulsorily providing additional drugs to curb such infections. "The early detection of tuberculosis has increased," said Dr Kudalkar.
Better treatment has reduced the stigma attached to HIV/Aids, said health activists. "Patients are now able to lead productive lives," said Manoj Pardeshi, general secretary, National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India.