World AIDS Day on Tuesday brings both good and bad tidings from Punjab. The state has reported a steady decline in HIV positivity (percentage of positive cases among the total tested) over the past seven years. However, it continues to be among the “highly vulnerable” states in India, especially in terms of having the highest HIV-infected intravenous drug users (IDUs) in the country.
The total number of HIV positive cases in Punjab (till October 2015) is almost 49,000 with Amritsar topping the chart with almost 13,000 cases followed by Patiala, Ludhiana and Jalandhar.
“Since the total number is counted from the time HIV started being tested in the integrated counselling and testing centres (ICTCs) in Punjab, there is a steady increase in the total number. But over the years, from 2008 onwards, we have seen a decrease in HIV positivity. This implies that the efforts made by the government in terms of scaling up awareness and control are beginning to bear fruit,” said Dr UJS Gill, deputy director, basic services, health, Punjab.
In 2008, the total number of people tested for HIV was over 1.67 lakh of which almost 5,000 were found positive. The positivity percentage was 2.96. It gradually reduced to 2.34% in 2009 and then to 1.96 (2010), 1.55 (2011), 1.13 (2012), 0.9 (2013) and then dropped to 0.87 last year when of the total 5.1 lakh people tested, only 4,500 tested positive.
“Compared to the rest of the country, Punjab is a low HIV-prevalence state. However, it is counted as among the states where the vulnerability is high. This is due to the high number of intravenous drug users (IDUs) as also its migrant population,” said Dr Gill.
HIV positivity among IDUs highest
HIV positivity among IDUs in Punjab stood at highest in the country at a whopping 21% in 2011 which was three times the national average which stood at about 7%. “The numbers have come down substantially since 2011. The total number of IDUs in the state now is about 12,500 and currently over 1,000 are HIV positive,” added Dr Gill.
The estimated prevalence of the disease in the state stands at 0.18% of the population as compared to 0.27 which is the national average. “The prevalence was last calculated in 2011 and these figures are of that period. The next round of figures is expected in the coming days when the latest picture will emerge.”
In Punjab, other than IDUs the disease is most prevalent among women sex workers followed by migrant population in the state. “The youth among the migrant population is indulging in unsafe sexual behaviour which is bringing in fresh cases,” added Dr Gill. In terms of state intervention, the coverage target population of migrant workers is over 65,000, for truckers it is 35,000, while for women sex workers it is over 20,000. The prevalence among truckers has not increased over the years pointing to effective government intervention in generating awareness and introducing safe sexual behaviour.