When Meera Gupta (name changed), 59, and her husband were diagnosed with HIV in 2001, the couple decided to opt for treatment with a specialist who runs a private practice.
“We feared our identity would be revealed if we were treated at a government centre. We also thought we might not get quality treatment in a public hospital,” said Gupta, a Kalyan resident, who along with her husband, shells out Rs 6,000 every month on their medication.
The fear of stigma is leaving many middle and upper-middle income HIV patients searching for the scarce breed of HIV specialists with a private practice despite the high costs involved. “These patients also look for personal rapport and attention from the doctors in a private set-up,” said Dr Rasmikant Shah, an HIV specialist, who runs a private clinic in Kandivli.
Doctors say there are few takers for a specialisation in HIV as it is considered a low-paying job. “In a huge city like Mumbai, there are not even 20 HIV specialists,” said Dr J K Maniar, consulting HIV physician at Jaslok Hospital. Dr Maniar has treated around 18,000 patients since 2007, of which 13,000 are on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
And while some private hospitals do advertise treatment of HIV patients, many prefer not to fearing losing out on patients with other illnesses owing to the taboo attached to AIDS.