Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that causes severe cell damage and inevitably depletes the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. It can be transmitted through the bodily fluids of a person already having HIV. The most common ways it can spread are during unprotected sex or through the sharing of injection drug equipment. If left untreated, HIV can often lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is the last stage of the HIV infection that occurs when the cells of the body have been harmed beyond repair.
According to an estimate by the UNAIDS, as of 2020, approximately 37.7 million people were globally infected with HIV. In India, the number was approximately 2.3 million infections. While in 2016, the prevalence rate stood at 0.30 % for India, which was ranked 80th highest in the world, as of 2018 this rate has drastically reduced in comparison to other countries. The main factors responsible for a large number of HIV infections in the country are attributed to low levels of literacy, primarily in rural areas as well as extensive labor migration. Some of the high-risk populations for HIV include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender groups, and injection drug users. At the moment, India currently spends about five percent of its health budget on the prevention and treatment of HIV/ AIDS.
Treatment and testing
The treatment for HIV among risk groups involves the use of a drug cocktail commonly referred to as antiretroviral drugs. Antiretroviral treatment (ART) is given to all people diagnosed with HIV as this helps slow down the progression of the disease while also reducing the chances of transmitting it to other people. As of 2020, there were approximately 1.5 million people on ART in India. Even though ART is free, and its coverage is continually increasing, the uptake remains low due to difficulties in accessing clinics.
Typically, a higher number of women are treated for HIV as opposed to men. Women and girls remain the most vulnerable groups relative to contracting the virus. Studies have shown that HIV is more easily transmitted from men to women as opposed to women to men. Furthermore, some of the other factors that make women more susceptible are female sex trafficking, early marriage, sex work, poverty and illiteracy. In 2017, based on the WHO guidance for HIV, India decided to adopt the ‘test and treat’ policy. According to this regulation, anyone who tests positive for HIV is immediately eligible for treatment regardless of the CD4 count. This count is obtained via a test carried out for HIV patients to measure the number of CD4 cells in the blood. In general, a higher CD4 count along with effective ART can help a patient reduce the viral load, thereby affording HIV victims a longer lifespan.
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