More work is needed to help people with HIV in India

A UNAIDS report shows improvement but activists say their work is far from over
More work is needed to help people with HIV in India

Indian Christians mark World AIDS Day in New Delhi in this file photo. Christian activists say India has to make treatment available to people living with the infection, especially in rural areas. ( file photo)

Activists in India have recognized their achievements in the wake of a UNAIDS report showing that the number of people accessing treatment has doubled, but say more work needs to be done.

Countries in Asia Pacific, including India, have doubled the number of people accessing treatment since 2010, according to a UNAIDS report released on Nov. 22. A record number of 2.1 million people now have access to lifesaving medicines.

"As we pat ourselves on the back for our achievements, it also reminds us of bigger challenges ahead and to work even harder," said James Veliath, an activist working in the area.

The UNAIDS report is a positive sign for everyone working for people living with this disease, "but we need to identify areas where people do not have full access to HIV treatment, primarily those in rural areas. Children born with HIV who are now adolescents and sexually active is another challenge."

India ranks third in the world for the total number of people living with HIV. According to the 2015 report of the National AIDS Control Organization, India has 2.1 million people living with the virus. The country has reported 86,000 new cases and 67,000 people died of the disease in 2015.

An official from the Health and Family Welfare ministry told that the government made a policy decision in 2015 that "every child born in this country should be free from [HIV]."

"With this decision an additional 100,000 persons got access to the treatment," said the official, who wanted to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Father Mathew Perumpil, secretary of the Indian bishops' office of health care told that it was encouraging to see more people accessing the treatment which is the best way to prevent the disease.

"But this should not make us complacent. We have to carefully look for people who are still left out. This should give us the direction to move forward," he said.

Data shows that India’s southern states have the largest populations of people living with HIV.  Populations that need the most support to cope with the horrific effects of the illness include sex workers, truck drivers, LGBT people and drug users.

Father Mathew Abraham, director of the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), told that HIV/AIDS is no longer a fatal disease.  

Drugs available nowadays have prolonged survival rates and kept the virus within people at undetectable levels.

Father Abraham said that even though the focus of the HIV program has been treatment, there is now an emergent need for holistic and palliative care.

"CHAI has been trying to fill the essential gap for comprehensive care, delivering holistic and palliative care programs ensuring that people living with HIV lead a dignified life with care and support," he said.

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