The state of Punjab, after battling with a long standing menace of drugs, is now witnessing a sudden surge in HIV AIDS cases. India’s northwestern frontier state has seen a 34 per cent rise in the total number of HIV cases detected in just a span of five years. According to an IE report, the number of cases reported are increasing in the state with every passing year. The National AIDS Control Organisation has indicated that the number of cases is likely to cross as much as 10,000 in this financial year. At present, around 2,943 patients have been tested as HIV positive in the first quarter of 2019-2020. While during the year 2014-15, there were as many as 5,385 HIV positive cases detected in Punjab and this number touched 8,133 by the end of 2018-2019. The increase in the number of cases has been continuous with 5,543 cases detected in the year 2015-2016, followed by 5,987 cases in 2016-17. In 2017-18, the number was at 6,730. These numbers of HIV patients are revealed by the Punjab State AIDS Control Society.
Which city is the worst hit?
- The city of Amritsar has been the worst hit in the last five years. If the figures are analyzed by district wise segregation, Amritsar tops the list as it has a total of 4,878 HIV patients in the last five years, that is from 2014-15 to 2018-2019. Amritsar is followed by Ludhiana which recorded a total of 4,045 HIV positive patients in five years.
- The city of Jalandhar was at the third position with as many as 3,268 patients followed by Patiala with 2,289 patients registered in the last five years. However, if only the financial year 2018-2019 is considered, Ludhiana was at the top spot with around 1,014 HIV positive patients followed by Amritsar with almost 966 patients. While, Jalandhar and Patiala saw 863 and 806 HIV positive patients, respectively, between the year 2018-2019.
What is the driving factor behind the increasing number?
According to the report, doctors claimed that the rise in HIV positive cases was seen partly due to more addicts switching to syringes for administering drugs. Apart from the sharing of needles, the Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and also Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs) were critical public health problems that needed urgent attention. Individuals with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and RTI have a significantly higher chance of acquiring as well as transmitting HIV infection.
Authorities in state of denial?
- The State Health Department stated that the reason behind more number of HIV cases is the rising number of HIV tests which are being done. Dr Manpreet Chhatwal, Additional Project Director, Punjab State AIDS Control Society was quoted as saying that in the year 2014-1205, they used to test around 5-6 lakh people, but in the last financial year they tested as many as 11-12 lakh patients. Hence, the number of results has also doubled. Moreover, the population of the state is also increasing steadily
- Above all these, the opening of the outpatient opioid assisted treatment (OOAT) clinics in the primary health centres, community health centres apart from the civil hospitals has also increased the screening of addicts who come for the de-addiction at OOAT clinics
What is being done as of now?
- The HIV testing of addicts at the OOAT clinics started around two years ago. Further, the number of STI/RTI clinics which were 23 in number in the year 2009-2010, have now been increased to as many as 31 in the year 2018-19 at the district/sub-districts hospitals as well as government medical colleges, informed authorities.
- According to information revealed from the State AIDS Control Society, for injecting drug users (IDU), the sublingual buprenorphine and methadone are being provided to the IDUs as part of a harm reduction intervention and treatment so as to reduce the chances of HIV.