Centre may give free drugs to more HIV patients

Centre may give free drugs to more HIV patients

With India having a high HIV burden, the Centre plans to distribute free anti-retroviral medicines to more HIV-infected people by altering the eligibility criterion.

At present, more than seven lakh HIV-infected people receive free drugs at government-supported clinics. They are selected on the basis of immunity status, which is estimated by analysing the level of CD4 immunity cells.

Clinicians said anybody diagnosed with HIV and a CD4 count below 350 should be immediately put on anti-retroviral therapy. The department of Aids control, formerly known as National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), uses this parameter to identify patients.

According to the new criterion recommended by the technical resource group of NACO, HIV-positive people with a CD4 count of 500 would be eligible for free medicines.

“We have accepted CD4 count of 500 as cut-off. But the new norms cannot be implemented immediately as medicines have to be procured. The process takes about eight months,” B B Rewari, an ART officer, told Deccan Herald.

Government estimates suggest that an additional 1-1.2 lakh HIV-positive people would come under the free medicine net because of the new selection criterion. India has an estimated 21 lakh HIV-positive people. It is the world’s third largest pool of HIV-infected people.

Though survival rate of Aids patients increased following introduction of government-subsidised programmes to provide anti-retroviral therapy (ART), the disease claims about 30,000 to 35,000 Indians every year. With proper intake of medicine, an HIV-positive person can live up to 15 years. But without the drugs, the CD4 level drops drastically, leading to death in about two years.

While a little over seven lakh people receive first-line ART drugs, only 5,000 people who develop resistance against the first-line medicines receive the more expensive second-line drugs.

The first-line drugs cost Rs 5,500 per person annually, whereas the figure shoots up to Rs 15,000 for second-line medicines.

The government, however, has not taken any decision on subsidised distribution of third-line medicines, priced between Rs 15000-20,000 per person per month.
The department has joined hands with industrial houses like Tata and Jindal to ferret out workers involved in high-risk behaviour for testing.

“An estimated 30 per cent of the people living with HIV/AIDS do not know their status,” said Lov Verma, a secretary in the department.

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