Updated: December 1, 2021 8:57:36 am
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a dip in screening and diagnosis of HIV patients in Mumbai. According to data shared by the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS) on the eve of World AIDS day, testing for people living with HIV (PLHIV) dropped by 50% in 2020 compared to the previous year. As a result, identification of new PLHIV plunged by 72% in the same period.
In 2019, MDACS conducted 4,75,540 tests, which dropped to 2,36,392 in 2020. After relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, testing has increased but it is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. Till October 2021, 1,90,691 tests were conducted in Mumbai.
In 2019, a total of 4473 new PLHIV were diagnosed, which fell to 2063 in 2020. Till October 2021, 1659 PLHIV were identified. Among the newly diagnosed patients, 94.6% contracted HIV through unsafe sex.
“Two factors contributed to the drop in testing. Due to the lockdown, patients couldn’t travel for testing. Also, due to fear of contracting Covid-19, many refused to go to hospitals for diagnosis,” said Dr Srikala Acharya, Additional Project Director, MDACS.
Doctors have now appealed to persons with high-risk HIV behaviour to get themselves screened and seek advice from government or private healthcare representatives for treatment.
“Like every other medical speciality, detection of fresh HIV cases has declined marginally since the beginning of the pandemic. Though existing patients have continued their follow-ups, fresh detection of HIV has occurred only in patients who visited hospitals for treatment of a separate, acute ailment,” said Dr Harshad Limaye, Infectious Disease, Nanavati Hospital.
To provide assistance to PLHIV, the civic body started a helpline number amid the pandemic, which recorded only 110 calls till November 30.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) weakens a person’s immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection. This makes the PLHIV more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 and succumbing to it.
When The Indian Express asked about the fatality rate among PLHIV with Covid-19 co-infection, MDACS said they do not have the data.
“We don’t have access to the data but worldwide deaths in HIV-Covid co-infection has been below 1%. There are theories that claim that the Antiretroviral therapy (ART) — a combination of drugs that helps to control the viral load — might have acted as a shield against SARS-Cov-2,” said Dr Acharya.
In Mumbai, there are around 150 PLHIV who have been on ART treatment since 2004. Now, MDACS has decided to start support groups in ART centres which will help provide moral support to ageing patients.
Currently, 36,674 people living with HIV-AIDS (PLHA) are on ART in Mumbai. Of them, 29,941 are on the first line regime, 4,042 are on the second line regime and 507 on the third line regime.
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