In five years, total number of HIV cases detected in Punjab have seen a 34 per cent rise, with the number increasing with each passing year. The National AIDS Control Organisation has indicated that the number is likely to cross 10,000 in this financial year. Already, 2943 patients have tested HIV positive in the first quarter of 2019-20. While in 2014-15, there were 5385 HIV positive cases detected in Punjab, this number touched 8133 by 2018-19 end.
The increase has been continuous with 5543 cases detected in 2015-16, followed by 5987 case in 2016-17. In 2017-18, the figure stood at 6730. These numbers of HIV patients are as per Punjab State AIDS Control Society.
Amritsar worst hit in five years
If figures are segregated district wise, Amritsar tops the list as it has a total of 4878 HIV patients in the past five years (from 2014-15 to 2018-19) followed by Ludhiana which recorded a total of 4045 patients in five years.
Jalandhar was at the third position with 3268 patients followed by Patiala with 2289 patients recorded in the five-year span. However, if only financial year 2018-19 is taken into account, Ludhiana was at number 1 with 1014 HIV positive patients followed by Amritsar with 966 patients. Jalandhar and Patiala recorded 863 and 806 HIV positive patients, respectively, in 2018-19.
What’s driving the rise?
Doctors claimed that the rise in HIV positive cases was partly due to more addicts switching to use of syringes to administer drugs. Apart from sharing of needles, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs) were important public health problems that needed urgent attention, they said, adding that individuals with sexually transmitted infections (STI) and reproductive tract infections (RTI) have significantly higher chance of acquiring and transmitting HIV infection.
State of denial?
The State Health Department, however, claimed that the reason behind more cases was rising number of HIV tests being done.
Dr Manpreet Chhatwal, Additional Project Director, Punjab State AIDS Control Society, said, “In year 2014-15, we used to test nearly 5-6 lakh people, but in the last financial year we tested 11-12 lakh patients. So, testing has also doubled. Moreover, population of the state is also increasing gradually. Above all, the opening of Out Patient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) clinics in primary health centres, community health centres apart from civil hospitals has also increased screening of addicts who come for de-addiction in OOAT clinics.”
Dr Chhatwal added, “In Punjab, sharing needles is becoming very common and hence it is coming out as a major reason apart from many other reasons associated with HIV and full blown AIDS patient.
What is being done?
HIV testing of addicts at OOAT clinics started two years ago. Further, the number of STI/RTI clinics which were 23 in 2009-10, have now been increased to 31 in 2018-19 at district/sub-districts hospitals and government medical colleges, informed authorities. For injecting drug users (IDU), Sublingual Buprenorphine and Methadone are being provided to the IDUs as part of harm reduction intervention as part of their treatment so as to reduce chances of HIV, revealed information from the State AIDS Control Society.