Ray of hope for 5,000 HIV+ people

NEW DELHI: Nearly 5,000 HIV positive patients in India, who were facing imminent death because they had become resistant to the first-line Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) – the only known treatment that suppresses the HIV virus – have good news coming their way. For, India has finally decided to roll out the second-line ART from January 2008.
The announcement will be made by health minister A Ramadoss on World Aids Day on December 1.

TOI has learnt that two centres – Mumbais J J Hospital and Chennais Tambaram ART centre – will roll out the treatment from January. Maulana Azad Medical College (Delhi), PGI (Chandigarh) and ART centres in Kolkata, Manipur and Nagaland will introduce it by April 2008. Nearly 3,000 patients, who have become resistant to first-line therapy, will be put on second-line by December 2008.

Ten doctors from these centres are being sent to Thailand to study operational issues relating to second-line therapy in mid-December.

At present, the National Aids Control Programme only provides free first-line drugs to over 1.05 lakh HIV patients in its 127 ART centres. Naco estimates that at least 3% of these patients have become resistant to first-line drugs, thanks to poor adherence to the treatment regimen. If not put on second-line immediately, most of these patients would die within a few years. Health secretary Naresh Dayal said: "We had planned to introduce second-line treatment only after one lakh HIV patients were put on first-line drugs. Now that we have crossed that mark, second-line will be introduced in January in a controlled manner. Only those patients, who have been on first-line drugs in Nacos ART centres and have become resistant, will be eligible for second-line."

Dayal said UNITAID, an international drug purchasing facility, has offered to donate the drugs to India for the first two years. Naco will then tie up with Indias generic drug makers to provide them. A health ministry official said: "Ramadoss is yet to decide whether we will accept UNITAIDs donation or tie up with pharma companies from the start itself." Under first-line therapy, patients had to consume two tablets a day. When on second-line, the number will increase to almost 10 with more side-effects.

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