ART centre staff protest leaves HIV patients in the lurch

Hundreds of HIV positive patients in Karnataka have been denied necessary treatment at the Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) centres as counsellors and technicians have boycotted work and are staging protest for the past six days.

The agitation has been called by the members of the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society Contractual Employees’ Association who are demanding better wages.

The protest has severely affected around 150 newly detected HIV positive patients across the State who visit the ART centres to collect their drugs. D T Thyagaraj, president of Karnataka Network for Positive People (KNP+) said “It is the primary duty of these contract workers to treat the patients and that is the reason why they were hired. If patients are let to die for whom will they work?,” he questioned. At the ART centre in Bowring and Lady Cruzon Hospital, nearly 50 patients of the 86 who visited the centre, were sent back. There is also a shortage of second-line of drugs, he added.

The Centre also reported eight fresh cases in the past one week but were denied initial treatment. Thyagaraj said that some of the patients who visited the Bowring Hospital weighed just around 20-25 kg but they could not be treated as they had to undergo counselling by trained counsellors. Similary, CD4 (cluster of differentiation 4) test is conducted to find out the immunity level in the patients by a technician. These tests have been suspended to all the patients. Normally, drugs are administered after checking the CD4 count. 

Thyagaraj said that though three doctors and two nurses had been deputed at the Bowring ART centre, they were not aware of the ART medicines. A volunteer from the KNP+ is helping the nurses identify the drugs and administer them to the patients, he added. More than 1.2 lakh HIV patients have enrolled themselves and are availing ART medicines at 55 ART centres and at 190 link ART centres across the State.

Health Minister U T Khader met the protesters at the Freedom Park on Wednesday and promised to solve their problems. 

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