The theme of World AIDS Day 2020, ‘Ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic: resilience and impact,’ has given rise to terms like ‘global solidarity’ and ‘shared responsibility.’
A team of experts held a press conference on November 30 to shed light on India’s status in terms of fighting HIV/AIDS. Almost every panelist stressed upon the need for showing global solidarity and sharing the responsibility to work towards eliminating HIV/AIDS and ensuring proper healthcare facilities for people living with HIV (PLHIV).
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Experts also highlighted the importance of life-saving anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for infected individuals, and the need for everyone to get tested so that patients can be identified and HIV can be stopped from spreading further.
Ishwar Gilada, President of AIDS Society of India (ASI), mentioned that India had around 2.35 million PLHIV in 2019. About 1.345 million of these were receiving ART. Around 69,220 new HIV cases and 58,960 AIDS related deaths were reported in India in 2019.
“The 2020 global target is to achieve reduction in new HIV infections and AIDS deaths below 500,000 in a year. But in 2019, we had 1,700,000 newly infected people with HIV and 690,000 AIDS deaths worldwide,” Giladia said.
Kumarasamy, ASI secretary general said, “As per the UNAIDS Report 2020, Asia Pacific region saw a 12% decline in new HIV infections and a 29% decline in AIDS-related deaths over the last decade. But the maximum decline of 66% in new infections was in India.”
Dr. Giladia said that 79 per cent of PLHIV in India were aware of their status and 71 per cent of these were on ART. He added that the number of those virally suppressed had increased but not to the target of 90-90-90.
“Everyone who tests positive for HIV should be on life-saving ART and viral suppressed. There should be no gap. We must give equal emphasis to prevention, not just treatment. We cannot prioritise treatment over preventing new infections. Such an approach will neither work for ending AIDS nor for ending COVID-19,” Dr. Kumarasamy said.
Despite extensive efforts by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) to provide an uninterrupted supply of ART to infected individuals during the pandemic, HIV key populations, sex workers and LBGTIQ+ communities faced challenges, as they were unable to have access to HIV-related services such as for co-infections and co-morbidities, the ASI said.
With only 121 months left to meet the target, the 2017 National Health Policy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to end AIDS by 2030.