Out of a HIV-positive population receiving treatment of 1.75 lakh, almost 67,000 reside in eight districts reeling under intensive floods. The provision of antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatments has been ordered by the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS), but social stigma could mean that the individuals in need of the therapy may not come forward to avail them. “No HIV patient will go out and seek medicine in public,” stated one health department official.
Officials have been asked to ensure they have stocks of ART drugs. “Along with other essential drugs, we have asked health workers to carry ART drugs with them,” a KSAPS official stated. “The stigma associated with the disease prevents PLHIV [persons living with HIV] from identifying themselves. However, if anyone comes forward and asks us, we can supply the drugs immediately.”
As of August 6th, 34 people had been killed in floods in Karnataka whilst more than two lakh people have reportedly been evacuated at the time of writing. Such disasters are times when the social stigma may rear its ugly head, as HIV-positive individuals who have been displaced or living in flood-affected areas are placed in the situation of publicly seeking medicinal treatment. To counteract this, workers are using existing data to deliver medicines to patients at their homes where possible.
In 2017, 2.1 million Indians were living with HIV/AIDS of whom 56 percent were availing treatment such as ART drugs. Social stigma may contribute to the relatively low proportion of individuals receiving the drugs they need, as well as other issues such as disparities in access to healthcare.
In times of emergency, it is imperative that individuals with HIV do not have to endure interruptions to their treatment regimens. As noted by Dr Glory Alexander, director of the ASHA Foundation, “A 100% adherence to the medicine is required…if [PLHIV] miss the medication, the viral load will go up in the affected person.” Meanwhile, efforts to ensure implementation of the provisions of a law regarding the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS – particularly pertaining to treatment guarantees and ending discrimination – is imperative, both in times of crisis and all-year-round.