India reaches 1 million people on treatment
The world’s second largest antiretroviral treatment programme is now reaching just under half of all those living with HIV in India, but challenges remain to achieve UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 Fast-Track targets.
One million people in India are now receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for free as part of its National AIDS Control Programme. The news was announced last week on World AIDS Day (1 December) and marks a significant achievement in the scale-up of HIV treatment access for the 2.1 million people living with HIV in the country.
While the treatment gains are to be commended, the heterogeneity and the sheer scale of the HIV epidemic in India presents significant challenges. HIV prevalence varies greatly geographically and among key affected populations, with some areas, particularly in the north and north east of the country recording increases in HIV prevalence.
India has seen success in reaching key affected populations – such as people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and sex workers – but groups such as transgender people, migrants and truckers are often left behind. Stigma towards key affected groups and people living with HIV is also a major blocker for HIV prevention and treatment scale-up.
Funding bottlenecks and bureaucratic changes have also led to widespread drug stock-outs over the past couple of years, particularly for those accessing second-line treatment.
India, which has the third largest HIV epidemic and the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world after South Africa, has been providing free antiretroviral treatment since 2004 and is now working to ensure every person living with HIV has access to treatment.
From 2010 to 2015, antiretroviral treatment coverage more than doubled in the country. From 2007, when the number of AIDS-related deaths peaked, deaths attributed to AIDS have declined by 54% as a result of this rapid scale-up of treatment. Progress on treatment access had saved around 450,000 lives in the country by 2014.
Oussama Tawil, UNAIDS Country Director for India, said that the achievement was an important milestone. He added: “The continued participation of communities in all aspects of the AIDS response is critical as India aims to further expand the provision of treatment.”