India to provide free treatment for all people living with HIV
The country with the third largest HIV epidemic moves to a test-and-treat strategy that aims to get everyone on antiretroviral therapy as soon as they test positive.
The Indian government has announced that it will begin implementing a 'test-and-treat' strategy for HIV. From now on, anyone who tests positive for HIV will be offered antiretroviral treatment immediately. This aligns India's policy with updated World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines released at the end of 2015.
Previously, people living with HIV were initiated on antiretroviral treatment as soon as their CD4 count – which counts the amount of a type of white blood cell in the blood stream– decreased to below 500 cells/mm3. The updated guidelines reflect the improved health benefits of starting treatment earlier for people living with HIV, as well as the public health benefits of treatment as prevention.
Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri J P Nadda said, “this will improve longevity, improve quality of life of those infected and will save them from many opportunistic infections, especially TB [tuberculosis].”
There are currently 2.1 million people living with HIV in India. While the end of 2016 saw India reach 1 million people on antiretroviral treatment – the country still has a long way to go to reach its target of every person on treatment.
Drug supply and procurement present major challenges for the scale-up. The country has been plagued by drug stock-outs in the past – particularly at government-run distribution centres.
Despite this, progress in curbing the HIV epidemic in India has been largely positive, with a 32% decline in new HIV infections, and a 54% decline in AIDS-related deaths between 2007 and 2015 alone.
The move was welcomed by Steve Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, who said “this new policy will bring life-saving treatment within reach of more than one million people living with HIV. It will keep individuals, families and communities healthy and productive and ensure that India ends its AIDS epidemic by 2030.”
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