AIDS patients currently under treatment at Mumbais AIDS Research and Control Centre (ARCON) housed in the state-run JJ Hospital met outside the centre on Thursday to request ARCON officials not to shut down the centre. The centre,which has 370 patients registered currently,is hopeful that Maharashtras minister for health will come to its rescue. Patients were in a state of confusion as the state minister of medical education Rajesh Tope had reportedly assured them on March 3 that the centre will stay open.
ARCON,which has been treating and counseling HIV positive patients since long is set to shut by April 30. Since its inception in 1994,with funding from the University of Texas,US and later from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM),the centre has catered to more than 10,000 patients.
Patients on anti retroviral therapy (ART) at the centre are receiving ART drugs from the centre at a subsidised cost and are happy with the treatment. The centre provides drugs,supplied to them by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO),at a subsidised rate ranging from 50-75% and at times free of cost to patients. Of the 60 patients gathered outside the centre,Rahul (name changed) said,My wife was taking ART therapy at KEM Hospital however she died. I was not convinced with her treatment hence I started medication at ARCON and I am feeling much better. I dont want it to be shut.
Another patient,Rajiv (name changed) said that there was a conflict of opinion between the in-charge of the centre and the minister. We have told them that it was impossible to go and seek treatment at public hospitals even if the treatment there is free. At ARCON we can even ask about our blood reports over the phone. Such personalised care would be missing at the crowded public hospitals.
Meanwhile,director of ARCON Dr Abhay Chaudhary explained that the centre has become redundant since the time NACO started providing HIV and AIDS drugs for free. Moreover the cross subsidy model,wherein rich patients would sustain the treatment of poor did not succeed to a great extent, he added.
The states JJ Hospital and BMCs Nair,KEM and Sion Hospitals have their respective ART centres. Chaudhary said that the Geneva-based board GFATM disbursed an amount to be spent over five years which gets over in 2009. ARCON also provided technical assistance to NACO to frame guidelines to control the spread of the infection.