HIV cases via infected syringes, needles up five-fold in 6 years in Punjab
In a worrying health trend for the state, the number of cases of the deadly disease of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome) transmitted via infected syringes and needles has seen an almost 370% increase over the past six years, starting from 2014 to August this year.
From 671 cases through this transmission route in the entire calendar year of 2014 to 3,134 cases reported till just August this year, the rapid increase raises several questions on public health practices and on drug addiction as well. The data is also significant as it indicates that drug addicts are possibly sharing needles to inject themselves.
Punjab State AIDS Control Society provided the data to this correspondent on a petition under Right to Information (RTI) Act last week. The state has reported around 10,000 patients of HIV, who contracted the disease through the use of infected syringes and needles since 2014.
HIV targets the immune system and weakens people’s defense systems against infections and some types of cancer. It results in increased susceptibility to a wide range of infections, cancers and other diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off. The most advanced stage of HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can take 2-15 years to develop, depending on the individual.
“The practice of quacks in rural areas and use of unsafe syringes are responsible for the rapid increase in HIV cases. The drug menace also spreads the disease as injecting drug users often use the same syringe,” said Dr Pyare Lal Garg, former registrar, Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot, and an activist.
Cases of HIV through infected syringes and needles have shown a far more rapid increase than other methods of its spread like heterosexual, homosexual/bisexual intercourse, and from parent to child. In fact, cases of the transmission of the disease from parent to child have fallen over the past six years from 191 in 2014 to 86 till August this year.
Punjab health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the government had formed a separate wing for treatment of drug addicts. “Doctors use only disposable syringes in hospitals and follow all precautions. Some already HIV-affected youths, however, use the same syringe to inject themselves with drugs. The state is working to combat the grave issue and victims are being treated in government hospitals free of cost,” the minister said, adding, “Recently, we arranged treatment for 17 drug addicts, including some HIV positive youths, in Sangrur. We are working to improve the situation.”
‘Amritsar tops state in HIV positive cases’
The number of cases till August-end this year, at 3,134, has already seen a 25% increase over last year’s figure of 2,567. The 2018 figure was a real shocker as it was an increase over 70% on the 2017 figure of 1,488; in 2016, 1,196 cases were seen, with 780 the year before in 2015.
In a separate report that Punjab State AIDS Control Society has published, 76,000 HIV positive cases have been reported at Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres across the state from 1993 to July 2019. The report adds that Amritsar tops the state 16,619 HIV positive cases; Ludhiana saw 8,949 cases; Jalandhar 7,861; Patiala 7,769 and Bathinda 3,286 over the corresponding period.