Almost two% of the People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) in Pune currently are forced to buy second line anti–retroviral therapy (ART) drugs to keep their CD4 (cluster differentiation) count intact. There are 17,000 PLHAs registered at Punes ART centre, of whom 4,000 need second line drugs urgently that are sometimes purchased even from social organisations referred to them by the ART centre. But most who cannot afford to do so end up taking first line drugs. A HIV patient Shrikant T (34) said that he was promised by ART officials that second line drugs will be made available to him free of cost from this year but this has not happened. He has bought drugs from social organisations like TAAL and NMP Plus. He said second line drugs were suggested because first line drugs failed to improve his CD4 count. “It has been eight months now that I am purchasing second line drugs from TAAL and NMP Plus. They charge almost Rs2,000 per month.”
“After arguing for many months with the officials at the ART centre, the nodal officer has finally given me a reference letter for JJ Hospital where the second line drugs are provided free–of–cost. These people have harassed me to death,” he said.
JJ Hospitals ART centre is the only centre in the state where second line drugs are made available for all PLHAs in the state free of cost.
Senior medical officer at ART centre Dr. Vedavati Purandare said there are 16,955 PLHAs in Pune (registered) of whom 1,500 are children. As many as 7,100 are on ART (first line drugs) of whom 700 are children.
She said if first line drugs fail, second line drugs are suggested and at present, 2% of them are in dire need of second line drugs. These drugs cost around Rs8,000 to Rs9,000 per month. She said National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) does not have any plan to make available second line drugs in Pune as many patients get them from Mumbai.
HIV consultant and director and chief of Institute of Infectious Diseases Dr. Sanjay Pujari said, “The number of patients needing second line drugs is very high and is underestimated by the government officials in Pune who claim that is only 2%. It might be around 15% today.”
He further said, “The government identifies failure of first line drugs through CD4 counts in a PLHA and it becomes too late for the patient to improve on it. Hence, viral loads (a test measuring the amount of HIV virus in the blood) is suggested and is ignored in many of the government hospitals and ART centres.”
Today, almost 70% of them need an early diagnosis to stop HIV transmission whereas 20 to 30% know they are positive and take medication while others are ignorant about their health, he said.