Four-fold jump in HIV cases among Ludhiana central jail inmates
The Ludhiana central jail witnessed a four-fold increase in HIV positive cases just in a span of two years, as per the record of the district antiretroviral treatment (ART) centre of the civil hospital.
As per the record, a total of 57 inmates (all male) were confirmed positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 2017, the number rose to 132 in 2018, and 218 in 2019, of which seven were women. Also, an inmate each had died of AIDS caused by HIV in 2017 and 2018.
The ART centre that carries out counselling and treatment of jail inmates has established that the primary reason for HIV among them was due to administering drugs via a used syringe. Among the seven women infected, five had contracted the virus by injecting drugs, while two through their partners. All the HIV positive inmates are in the age group of 20 to 40 years.
Centre officials said most of them were drugs users before being jailed while others injected drugs while being out on bail. They were then diagnosed for HIV by the integrated counselling and testing centre (ICTC) that periodically carried out a diagnosis of HIV in jails.
Currently, over 3,350 inmates are lodged in the jail.
Varinder Sharma, a counsellor at the ART center, who has been observing jail inmates since 2015, shared that earlier where the cases were both due to unprotected sex and injecting drugs, the latter now remains a primary reason. Sharma said it was not due to lack of awareness among the inmates, but the misconception about reuse of the syringe.
“During the counselling session, I spoke to many jail inmates, most of which said they believed that if they sterilised the used syringe with boiling water, they will not get infected with HIV virus,” said Sharma, adding that many of them said where heroin is easily available, the addicts shared syringes instead of purchasing one from chemists to avoid any kind of suspicion.
“One of the inmates told me that where it takes five minutes to get alcohol, it takes only two to get heroin but purchasing new syringe every time is seen as a risk by many so they prefer sharing the syringe,” he informed.
In July 2018, the state government had imposed a ban on the sale of syringes at chemist shops, which was lifted the same month.
Dr Shabnam Bansal, senior medical officer (SMO), ART centre, said the Punjab State Aids Control Society (PSACS) was monitoring the treatment of HIV positive inmates and counsellors who give a regular report on their status. “Our doctors and counsellors visit the jail every week and provide them with medicines,” she said.