Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome (AIDS), caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is a disease that affects the human immune system. In due course of the infection, the virus interferes more and more with the immune system, making the person much more susceptible to common diseases like tuberculosis, as well as opportunistic infections and tumors which could result in death of the patient.
HIV is transmitted primarily through unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated, blood transfusions, hypodermic needles and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic. In India, the prevalence of AIDS has reduced down to 0.3 percent, which means an estimated 2.1 million people are infected. Less than 25% of HIV positive individuals receive Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) due to frequent drug shortage. There is little access to HIV testing and often a scarcity of testing kits at counseling and testing centers. However, one of the most significant challenges India faces is the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS patients, where they are ostracized from the society.
AdvertisementAIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization, which provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy to over 350,000 HIV patients in 36 countries. They are the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the U.S.A with the mission to rid the world of HIV/AIDS. They began their work in India in 2004 and have since become a pre-eminent AIDS organization. In 2006, AHF India Cares became the first to offer free ART for those who had developed resistance to certain medications, by establishing the Centre of Excellence ART clinic in New Delhi. Dr. Nochiketa Mohanty is the Country Program Manager for AHF India Cares. Dr. Mohanty holds a degree in MBBS from Sambalpur University and MPH as well as an MBA degree from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, USA. He has been a key asset to AHF India through his academic experience and understanding of public health, business administration and community medicine and represents the organization internationally.
Medindia interviewed Dr. Mohanty, who shared a few insights from the workings of AHF India, the pertinent issues the organization faces and the extent of success of the many ambitious AHF programs.
Excerpts from the interview:
- Was there a hype and creation of a 'fear factor' about HIV/AIDS in the early years?
- Which country currently has the maximum burden of HIV/AIDS?
- What are the challenges your NGO faces in the field - especially in the lesser-developed countries?
- Please tell us more about the 20X20 initiative.
Investing in up scaling of treatment will yield humanitarian and economic benefits that far outweigh the initial costs. This is the chief aim of 20×20, which would spark a renewed vision. The present global mindset and interpretation that the AIDS response is a burden should be changed, as it is a smart long-term investment that will pave the way to ending AIDS, boosting economic growth and saving millions of lives, which is possible with the campaign.
- Would you want to comment on the role of Indian Pharma companies in supplying cheaper ART to the world?
- It was a great initiative by AHF to take up the issue of cancellation of government price caps on expensive medicines for HIV. Can you please tell us how far it has succeeded?
The update on this issue is that NPPA (National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority) has drafted a new list including those non-listed medicines in the NLEM (National List of Essential Medicines). The acceptance of this draft will definitely bring relief to many who are unable to afford these medicines and will definitely be an accomplishment for the NPPA and dawn a new day in the drug pricing standards of essential medicines.
- What kind of policy changes do you think should be brought in to address the pertinent issues involving AIDS?
- It is a known fact that not all people have access to the HIV medicines especially the LGBT community, commercial sex workers and injected drug users. How has AHF helped in such cases?
While the AHF Testing vans and partner sites provide an alternate avenue for HIV testing for these communities, AHF clinics in New Delhi and Mumbai provide the ambience and confidentiality sought by these communities. As a part of our MOONLIGHT project (Mainstreaming Out of Network Lesbian Intersex Gay Hijra and Transgender), the AHF New Delhi clinic and Testing facilities are also accessible in the late evening hours till 10 PM from Monday to Saturday, which enhances the accessibility of testing and treatment services for these communities who tend to be more available during after-hours slots.