Ahead of World AIDS Day (December 1), a first countrywide assessment of the anti retroviral treatment (ART) programme by Pune-based National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) has shown a “significant survival advantage” when medication is introduced early for persons living with HIV.
Across the country there are 21.4 lakh people living with HIV (PLHIV), of which 14.5 lakh are on anti retroviral treatment dispensed from 396 centres. Adherence to the ART regimen is vital and this five-year-long assessment, that concluded recently, analysed secondary data of about 2 lakh PLHIV from 81 ART centres across the country.
“Our findings show that there is a significant survival advantage for PLHIV who start ART early and this also lessens the chance of getting secondary infections like TB. However, mortality among people living with HIV who take treatment late is high,” Dr Samiran Panda, Director, NARI, told The Indian Express.
While the findings are being analysed, a draft report has been submitted to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) by Dr Sheela Godbole, principal Investigator of the study from ICMR-NARI. This NACO-supported study was carried out by NARI along with six Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) institutes and the Institute of Economic Group, New Delhi, to understand the impact of the ART programme. As a part of this investigation, 1,800 PLHIV were surveyed from across 33 ART centres for generating primary data.
The PLHIV included in the study were divided into three groups ? those who had started treatment when the CD4 count (CD4 + T cells fight infection and the more one has the better. These are the cells that the HIV virus kills) was 200, another group when CD4 count was 300 or more and the third group with CD4 count 500 and more.
“We found that the chances of survival were poor among those whose CD4 count was 200 or less and definitely better when the count is 500 and more. The entire message of the study is that treatment should be immediately sought once he/she knows that they are positive with HIV. There is still 10-15 per cent of people who come in late for treatment,” Dr Panda said.
When contacted, Dr Naresh Goel, Deputy Director General, NACO, told The Indian Express that they were studying the draft report of the NARI study. “The survival outcomes are significantly higher when ART is initiated early,” Dr Goel said.