Report on Unnao HIV cases: Migrant population, unprotected sex among main causes

The report does not rule out the use of a contaminated syringe on multiple patients as the cause in some cases but said that alone was not the chief reason.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2018 07:09 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
HIV,HIV-AIDS,Unnao
Early therapy conveys a double benefit, not only improving the health of individuals but at the same time, by lowering their viral load, reducing the risk they will transmit HIV to others. (Shutterstock)(File photo)

A large migrant population and high-risk behaviour such as unprotected sex are the main causes for the high number of HIV cases reported from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, concluded the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) report by the fact-finding team that visited the district on February 7.

The report does not rule out the use of a contaminated syringe on multiple patients as the cause in some cases but said that alone was not the chief reason.

“The virus can’t survive in the sun beyond a minute, so while a contaminated syringe may have caused stray infections, it cannot lead to a spurt in HIV cases,” said Sanjeeva Kumar, director general, NACO.

Since July 2017, 58 people have tested positive for HIV in Unnao district, and another five were found to be HIV reactive, which means they might develop the infection later.

“A review of the data from the two screening camps conducted in November and January in Unnao showed the high prevalence in the first camp was due to it being a migration and high-risk behaviour prone area, while high cases in the second camp were attributed to a quack’s injection,” said Kumar.

NACO is seeking technical advice from experts working in the field of HIV/AIDS before submitting a final report to the Union health ministry.

HIV prevalence in Unnao is currently 0.39% (2017-18), shows Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (UPSACS) data, compared to the state average of 0.22%. India’s HIV prevalence rate is 0.28%, or 2.1 million people.

“Unnao has always been under close surveillance because it is a trucking hub and home to a migratory population, who are a high-risk group,” said Dr Preety Pathak, member, UPSACS.

“These figures did not surprise (us) as the infection rate didn’t go up overnight,” she added.

Data for the region over the past five years sourced from Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres, where people are counselled and tested for HIV, shows that the five-year average prevalence among people is 0.45% , and was as high as 0.92% in 2014-15.

“The district has always been on the HIV surveillance radar. Why do you think we held screening camps in this district? We have limited resources and we try to make the most of it by focusing on high-risk areas. When 12 positive cases showed up in routine screening last year, we conducted screening camps,” says Pathak.

Experts fear the number of those infected could be higher since not everyone at risk has been tested. “Testing is voluntary; we can’t force anyone to get tested so there is always a possibility more people are carrying the infection,” said S P Choudhary, chief medical officer (CMO), Unnao.

“Getting tested takes up the entire day, which means losing the whole day’s earning . Some people stay away because they fear testing positive.Even though the AIDS medicines (ART drugs) are free, travelling to Kanpur costs Rs 100 per person one way, which many of us can’t afford,” said Kamal Gautam, a daily labourer who lives in Premgunj.

The next step is to intensify awareness campaigns, CMO Choudhary said.“At the moment, people are panicking. We will run awareness campaigns once things calm down.”

First Published: Feb 17, 2018 23:10 IST