Health minister J.P. Nadda, while launching the initiative in New Delhi, said that with the initiative the government will monitor the effectiveness of treatment of patients on lifelong ART treatment.
‘There are only 10 viral load testing machines in each of the 113 state reference laboratories (SRLs) in India but the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has procured 80 more machines to be installed for viral load testing.’
The viral load is used to monitor the effectiveness of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) over time. It measures the amount of HIV genetic material (RNA) in the blood and reports how many copies of the virus are present.
In 2017, India revised the ART treatment protocols to initiate all PLHIV on ART. The 'treat all' initiative was started to ensure that treatment is started early and the virus transmission is curtailed both at the individual and the community level.
According to the union health ministry, about 1.2 million PLHIV are availing the benefit of free treatment from more than 530 ART centres.
"The routine viral load testing will optimize the utilization of first line regimens, thus preventing drug resistance and ensuring the longevity of people living with HIV. Viral load testing will empower medical officers at ART to detect failure on first line treatment early and therefore save PLHIV from developing resistance to drugs. It will also help in strengthening 'Mission Sampark' in tracking LFU (loss to follow up) PLHIV and to be brought under ART services," said Nadda.
Nadda also released the National Guidelines for HIV-1 Viral Load Laboratory Testing, National Operational Guidelines for Viral Load Testing, Standard Operating Procedure for HIV-1 Quant Assay with Cartridge-based nucleic acid amplification test (CBNAAT) (to diagnose tuberculosis and rifampicin (TB drug) resistance) and Guidelines on Quality Monitoring System for Outsourced Viral Load Tests.
"With launch of Test and Treat, there is increase in number of PLHIV needing treatment and thus the Viral Load testing. With increase in number of PLHIV on treatment the monitoring needs have also increased," said Anupriya Patel, minister of state for health and family welfare.
India has the third largest population of people with HIV after South Africa and Nigeria, according to UNAIDS. The report released n July 2017 revealed that in India, only 49% of patients were on Antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2016. India had 2.1 million people living with HIV at the end of 2016 and 36.7 million globally, according to the report.