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Being HIV positive is not a death sentence: Experts at ASICON

Shardul Nautiyal, New Delhi
Saturday, March 18, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Being HIV positive is not a death sentence unless HIV positive patient status is known through early diagnosis and timely therapy. Many time tested ART therapies and efficacious and cost effective drugs are available today with less side-effects, experts deliberated at the14th National Conference of AIDS Society of India (ASICON), AIDS Society of India (ASI) and Governing Council member of International AIDS Society (IAS) which started from March 17, 2023 in New Delhi and will conclude on March 19, 2023 under the theme “Energize, Empathize, Equalize”.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Dr Atul Gogia, senior consultant, department of medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi said, “The event is very relevant and happening in North India for the first time as a big national conference on HIV. It is aimed at generating awareness in clinicians, researchers and laymen around HIV diagnosis and treatment. There is a big stigma and taboo around it to disclose status. Almost 10 years ago, there were limited options. Today the basket of drugs has increased and therapies are affordable and accessible just like in case of ailments like diabetes, cardiac and cancer among others. With the advancement in therapies and drugs, the cost is today reasonably low to maximum Rs. 2,500 per month to Rs1500 per month upfront for first line therapy which has made the HIV treatment very affordable and accessible.”

“Commonly used drugs are in the combination of tenofovir+lamivudine+dolutegravir+ efavirenz, which is the standard first line medication being widely prescribed today to treat HIV,” he further added.

Companies like Emcure, Hetero and Laurus Labs showcased their products during the event.

According to Dr Dilip Mathai, medicine and adult infectious diseases specialist, “This conference has a common goal of India at 95-95-95 before 2025. We have been falling behind time in achieving the targets. It has to be ensured that we keep the status of a person known as quickly as possible which we are trying to institute through self –testing based on WHO guidelines. So if 95 % know their status we presume that they will go for treatment.  If 95% patients go for treatment realistically, it will lead to 95% patients being virologically suppressed. High risk behaviour groups like female sex workers, trans-genders and injecting drug users would be empowered to know their HIV status and accordingly they can be put under treatment. This will make them virologically suppressed. Once you are virologically suppressed, it will lead to zero transmission.”

“Currently, we have a range between 60% and 70% when it comes to self-testing or knowing the status of HIV positive patients. It is very difficult to say about decrease or increase in cases due to lack of baseline status. Unless a person gets himself tested, the high risk status cannot be assessed,” Dr Mathai added.

"Experts and ASI have joined hands with NACO to come out with a national policy on HIV self-testing. Saliva testing and blood tests are available in India free of cost. There should be a system where one is being counseled on HIV self-testing," Dr Mathai further explained.

Some of the key topics discussed were Global Epidemiology and Strategies for Elimination of HIV by David Bridger, UNAIDS, HIV scenario in India by Dr. Anoop Kumar Puri, NACO, Collateral Damages due to Covid Pandemic by Dr. Randeep Guleria, Delhi, Challenges in Implementation of 95 - 95 - 95 by Dr. Meg Doherty, WHO HQ, Recent Update on PrEP and its implications for implementation in India by Dr. Kenneth Mayer, USA, diagnosis of acute HIV infection in primary health care settings by Dr. Vanita Gupta, Chandigarh, self-testing - Can we implement this in India? by Dr. Kimberly Green, PATH, Vietnam, Need for CD4 in Test and Treat Era by Dr. Ishwar Gilada, Mumbai, HIV and TB: Changing Scenario by Dr. Rajendra Joshi, CTD, GOI, Newer TB medications -When to use them? by Dr. G Narendran NIRT/ICMR and Newer diagnostics for tuberculosis by Dr. Mayank Pandey, Delhi.


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