The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were first reported in India in 1986. Since then, India has come a long way in HIV prevention, treatment and care for people living or at the risk of HIV.
But a lot still needs to be done.
According to the 2017 UNAIDS data, new HIV infections in India have decreased by 46%, and AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 22% since 2010. In 2016, India had 80,000 new HIV infections compared to 1,50,000 in 2005, and 62,000 AIDS-related deaths compared to 1,50,000 in 2005.
With an HIV prevalence of 0.26% in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV, shows data.
The key populations most affected by HIV in India are sex workers (HIV prevalence of 2.2%), gay men and other men who have sex with men (HIV prevalence of 4.3%), people who inject drugs (HIV prevalence of 9.9%) and transgender people (HIV prevalence of 7.2%).
Data has shown that there was a 66% decline in new infections from 2000 to 2015.
However, this trend has largely flat-lined between 2010 and 2015. While there has been a fall in the estimated number of AIDS-related deaths by 54%, the bad news is that with slowing declines in new infections, we might see an increase in the number of people living with HIV.
Which is why the national response will have to accelerate on HIV prevention. Here’s what the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV/AIDS and STI 2017 – 2024 aims to do:
According to NSP, By 2020, the focus of the national programme will be on achieving the following fast-track targets:
1. 75% reduction in new HIV infections
2. 90-90-90: 90% of those who are HIV positive in the country know their status, 90% of those who know their status are on treatment and 90% of those who are on treatment experience effective viral load suppression
3. Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis
4. Elimination of stigma and discrimination
By 2024, it hopes to achieve:
1. 80% reduction in new HIV infections
2. Ensuring that 95% of those who are HIV positive in the country know their status, 95% of those who know their status are on treatment and 95% of those who are on treatment experience effective viral load suppression
In 2017, there were two achievements that helped reduce the number of people living with HIV in India. These were the enactment of the ‘HIV/AIDS Bill’ as a law protecting the rights of people living with and affected by HIV and the announcement and implementation of the ‘Test and Treat’ policy.
“India began focusing on high-risk groups and working with communities and those most affected. The persistent focus on a decentralized response that offered prevention coverage of high-risk groups to saturation level, testing and treatment services, evidence-based programming and building technical capacity helped has shown results,” Ashok Alexander, founder-director, Antara Foundation and head of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Avahan, told Hindustan Times.
The goal now is to achieve zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination.
The NSP’s priority is to accelerate HIV prevention in ‘at risk group’ and key population.
It wants to expand quality-assured HIV testing with universal access to comprehensive HIV care. It also wants to address the critical enablers in HIV programming and restructuring the strategic information system to be efficient and patient-centric.
“India needs a national review of its harm-reduction policies to offer substitution therapy for de-addiction to all drug users, and not just injecting drug users since oral users graduate to injecting drugs. India must also decriminalize behaviors, such as drug use and homosexuality, to ensure that harm-reduction services and treatment reach those who need them,” Dr. Bilali Camara, UNAIDS country director in India, told HT.
Here’s hoping that India can completely end AIDS by 2024.