7 June 2012
A25–year–old HIV positive patient in need of the second line of Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) has been waiting for two months to get a referral letter from the civic–run Sion hospital.
The patient, a resident of Chembur, has developed skin infection and his health has deteriorated considerably. The second line treatment is available only at the state-run JJ hospital.
The patient tested positive for HIV in February and has been taking treatment at Sion hospital’s ART centre. "However, my body was not responding to the treatment at all. Instead, I started having side effects such as skin rash,"said the patient, who works as a driver.
In March, the 25–year–old was told by Sion doctors that he would need the second line of treatment for which he would have to go to JJ. "The doctors there sent me back saying that they would need a referral letter on email from the Sion doctors,"the patient said, adding that though he has been visiting Sion hospital almost daily since then, the email still hasn’t been sent.
The patient’s employer who also followed up with the hospital authorities said they have just been putting off the matter for the last two months. "His condition is now extremely bad with rashes all over his skin. Whenever we visit the hospital they ask us to return later,"she said.
Dr Sandhya Kamat, dean of Sion hospital, said it is impossible that a HIV patient has been kept waiting for so long. "I will look into the matter immediately,"she said, refusing to comment further. Head of the medicine department, Dr N D Maulick, also remained unavailable for comment.
As per NACO guidelines, HIV patients who show less amount of viral infection and better immunity are given first line of drugs. After regular tests, when the patient’s CD4 cell count drips drastically and the viral load (severity of the infection) is more than 5000, the patient is put on the second line of ART. While the first line of ART costs around Rs 450 per month, the second line of drugs costs Rs 10,000 per month. JJ Hospital is the only centre in the western region where this second line of treatment is given.
"Due to this, our patient load is huge. Therefore, we have to stress on referral letters from the hospital to make the process easy,"said a senior doctor from JJ Hospital. The referral system helps the hospital prioritise its load and ensure that the patient has received the first line treatment.