HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) attacks the body's immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, unprotected sex (semen or vaginal fluids), and the mother to the child. Within a few weeks of HIV infection, flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat and fatigue can be seen. Then the disease is usually asymptomatic until it progresses to AIDS. AIDS symptoms include weight loss, fever or night sweats, fatigue and recurrent infections.
HIV has no effective treatment. However, it can be managed with proper medical care. The good news is that the prevalence of HIV-infected patients is on a declining trend.
The burden of HIV/AIDS in India
Over 17 lakh people contracted HIV in the country in the last 10 years due to unprotected intercourse, according to the data provided by National AIDS Control Organization. However, the number of people contracting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in the last 10 years has come down significantly. HIV transmission by unprotected sex was recorded in 2.4 lakh people in 2011-12, while the number reduced to 85,268 in 2020-21.
Among the states, Andhra Pradesh recorded the highest number of such cases of HIV transmission at 3,18,814 followed by Maharashtra at 2,84,577, Karnataka at 2,12,982, Tamil Nadu at 1,16,536, Uttar Pradesh at 1,10,911 and Gujarat at 87,440 cases.
Also, 15,782 people contracted HIV by transmission through blood and blood products from 2011-12 to 2020-21, and 4,423 contracted the disease by mother-to-child transmission according to data.
National AIDS Control Program
The National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), launched in 1992 by the government of India, is being implemented as a comprehensive programme for the prevention and control of HIV/ AIDS in India.
Under this, the government of India provides free lifelong antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for people living with HIV. According to the data, there are still an estimated 24.01 lakh patients of HIV in the country, including 51,000 children. People living with HIV are given ARV medicines through ART centres irrespective of their income background. It includes free adherence counselling, diagnostic and monitoring services like baseline laboratory investigations, CD4 count testing, viral load testing, etc.
Over time, the focus has shifted from raising awareness to behaviour change, from a national response to a more decentralized response and to increasing involvement of NGOs and networks of People living with HIV (PLHIV).
The NACP I started in 1992 was implemented with the objective of slowing down the spread of HIV infections so as to reduce morbidity, mortality and the impact of AIDS in the country.
In November 1999, the second National AIDS Control Project (NACP II) was launched to reduce the spread of HIV infection in India, and to increase India’s capacity to respond to HIV/AIDS on a long-term basis.
NACP III was launched in July 2007 with the goal of Halting and Reversing the Epidemic over its five-year period.
NACP IV, launched in 2012, aims to accelerate the process of reversal and further strengthen the epidemic response in India through a cautious and well-defined integration process over the next five years.
NACP V (2021-2026), aims to achieve an 80% reduction in new infections and AIDS-related deaths. This phase also targets dual elimination of HIV and syphilis. This phase is fully funded by the government of India.
Steps taken by the government to create awareness
To de–stigmatize the myths revolving around the disease, NACO implements multimedia campaigns along with mass media supported by outdoor media such as hoardings, bus panels, information kiosks, folk performances and exhibition vans to create awareness on HIV/AIDS and promoting services/facilities across the country. At the interpersonal level, training and sensitization programmes for Self-Help Groups, Anganwadi workers, ASHA, members of Panchayati Raj Institutions and other key stakeholders are carried out to spread awareness about treatment and other facilities.
The Adolescence Education Programme is implemented in more than 50,000 schools, providing 100% coverage to students of classes 8th, 9th and 11th through co-curricular activities based on a life skill education approach in senior and senior secondary schools. 32 States included the topic of HIV /AIDS in the curricula of schools.
Red Ribbon Clubs are formed in colleges to encourage peer-to-peer messaging on HIV prevention and provide a safe space for young people to seek clarification to their doubts on myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Importance of taking an HIV test
Experts recommend everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. Knowing your HIV status helps you plan your life in a better way.
If your test result is positive, you can take medicine to treat the virus. HIV treatment reduces the amount of HIV in your blood (viral load). Taking HIV treatment as prescribed can make the viral load so low that a test can’t detect it (undetectable viral load). Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load (or staying virally suppressed) is the best way to stay healthy and protect others.
People with certain risk factors should get tested more often. They are:
- You’re a man who has had sex with another man.
- You’ve had anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV.
- You’ve had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test.
- You’ve shared needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment (for example, cookers).
- You’ve exchanged sex for drugs or money.
- You’ve been diagnosed with or treated for another STD.
- You’ve been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or TB.
- You’ve had sex with someone who has done anything listed above or with someone whose sexual history you don’t know.