67,600 AIDS-related deaths in a year is not small, Mr. Minister

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AIIMS Delhi was a ‘ticking bomb’ for HIV patients until February 2016 when its Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Clinic, which was collecting sputum of TB patients suffering from MDR and XDR, halted the practice after about a decade, reveals Yogesh Kant.

About 67,600 people died because of AIDS in India last year, according to the latest statistics presented by the country’s health minister JP Nadda at the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York

Though the figure has definitely come down if compared to the year 2007 when India had recorded 1,48,309 such deaths, the current statistics still suggest that the situation remains alarming for the AIDS patients.

These HIV-infected patients need more attention and professional approach in terms of treatment, which is yet not the case at many medical institutions.

New Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, one the leading government-run hospitals, was until recently a glaring example of careless attitude towards AIDS patients.

As per the copy of a 2015 sting mobile video, which is in possession of Tehelka, the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Clinic of AIIMS, besides dealing with HIV patients, was until few months ago used to collect sputum of tuberculosis patients, some of whom suffering from suffering from multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensive drug resistant (XDR) symptoms.

Since the beginning, the antiretroviral therapy clinic, which opened in May 2005 to serve HIV patients under National AIDS Control Organisation, was threatening the lives of the ART patients by exposing them to the fatalities linked to infections caused by the sputum of the TB patients.

This practice had the potential to reduce the life span of the HIV patients who may have got infected and fell victim to the multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensive drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis.

Based on the available figure, the Department of Medicine of AIIMS — led by Professor SK Sharma who is also the Nodal officer of ART Clinic – treated about 8,018 AIDS patients in 2013-14; 7442 in 2012-13 and 6,745 in 2011-12.

Tehelka could not get the details about the number of casualties. However, a consultant confirmed to this reporter that getting infected by MDR-TB or XDR-TB is extremely dangerous for an HIV patient.

“If normal tuberculosis catches an HIV patient, there are few cures. But if these patients get infected to MDR-TB or XDR-TB, then it becomes life threatening for them,” said a Delhi-based doctor of medicine, who requested anonymity.

When this Tehelka reporter called ART Clinic of AIIMS last week, someone indirectly confirmed that the lab technician Arun, who used to collect sputum of TB patients there, has been shifted to DOTs (Direct Observation Treatment short course) Centre about 4-5 months ago. (Audio attached)

The attached sting video made by an insider in August 2015 can be a pointer to what happens inside the government-run hospital.

The only good thing is that in this case, though after more than a decade of risking lives of thousands of HIV patients, AIIMS finally moved TB lab out of the ART Clinic.

Ironically, over 80 percent of the drugs used globally to combat the deadly AIDS, as Dr. Nadda highlighted, are supplied by Indian pharmaceutical firms and the low-cost generic medicines have helped scale up access to HIV treatment across developing countries.

On the medical technology front, the country is doing well. But we still need to focus more on the international norms and safety when we are dealing with sensitive cases as that of HIV patients.