Do People Living with HIV Count?

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I have frequently heard about antiretroviral drug stock-outs from my friends and colleagues over the past three years, but then I faced one myself. Two months back, my doctor prescribed only 15 days of my medicines instead of a full month. I couldn’t even get my CD4 test done as the clinic has no test kits. I was told to come next month.

Drug stock-outs remain a real problem. My last visit to a Vihaan Care & Support Centre (CSC) in Haryana showed me the severity of it and its consequences. There were two new deliveries by HIV-positive mothers, but the doctors could not give the newborns nevrapine syrup to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. If it is not administered within 72 hours of birth, its effectiveness is significantly compromised. There was zero stock of this essential drug at the government-run Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission (PPTCT) centre. The doctors were helpless.

The client load in district Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) centres is increasing every day, and the centres remain understocked with the lifesaving drugs that people living with HIV (PLHIV) need. Patients are being sent home with just a week’s dose of ART medicine. Return visit increases the financial burden on patients from poor socio-economic backgrounds and can result in non-adherence to a treatment regime, which can in turn undermine drug efficacy in patients.

The last decade has seen real progress in treatment, prevention, care and support services in India. We cannot afford to stall this progress when the battle is only half won. We must not move backwards. Our country’s HIV response is at a cusp where investment needs to be accelerated, not cut. PLHIV rely on treatment and support to lead the full lives they deserve. It is critical that we do not lose faith in these services.

In India, nearly 800,000 people are on ART of a total more than 2,100,000 people living with the virus. They will all need treatment soon enough. The life of every PLHIV counts. This current gap can only be filled with a concerted investment and a robust collaboration of government, civil society and affected communities. Let’s get to zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma. Together we can have a future without AIDS.

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 The author of this post, Mona Balani, is a Programme Officer at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi. 

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