Delegates during AIDSCON in sector 35. (Express photo/Jasbir Malhi)
At the inaugural session for the ninth national conference on AIDS control — AIDSCON— hosted by the Chandigarh State Aids Control Society (CSACS) in collaboration with the National Aids Control Organization (NACO) and Punjab Medical Council (PMC), NSACS Project Director Dr Vanita Gupta said that the biggest challenge for Chandigarh is to detect and treat HIV positive individuals in marginalized and stigmatized populations.
“Though we have successively been inching towards curbing cases of AIDS in the Tricity, our biggest challenge is to detect and curb AIDS in the hidden populations of the city,” says Dr Gupta in conversation with Newsline at the event. By hidden populations, Gupta elaborates, she means stigmatized populations such as homosexual men, transgenders and those who are involved in intravenous drug abuse.
“However, since the amendment of Article 377, it has been easier for some members of this population to openly receive treatment and we have been able to reduce the stigma and create awareness through community-based activities,” adds Dr Gupta.
The two-day conference, which is attended by representatives from various state-level AIDS control societies and members from health organizations such as Indian AIDS Council and even the World Health Organization, consists of sessions aimed at creating awareness on AIDS control practices and discussing strategies to further extend the effectiveness of AIDS control programs across the nation. At the inaugural session, attended by UT Health Director Dr G Dewan, Deputy Director General of NACO Dr Naresh Goyal and National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) Assistant Director Dr Shobhini Rajan among others, health experts from the country gave brief addresses on the challenges faced by Chandigarh, as well as the whole of India in treating and curbing the number of cases of HIV positive individuals.
In her address, Dr Gupta highlighted how the number of patients with AIDS has been progressively decreasing, while the number of individuals getting tested for AIDS has only increased over the years in Chandigarh, indicating that awareness levels have increased, while quality of treatment delivered to patients have increased. Gupta also produced data to show how the number of deaths cause by AIDS has steadily decreases to 21 such case recorded in Chandigarh in 2019 as compared to 148 in 2017.
“Furthermore, a lot of cases detected in Chandigarh are actually referred cases from the neighboring states because the quality and infrastructure of healthcare here is quite good,” added Dr Gupta. Dr Goyal from NACO explained that though the number of new cases of HIV infected individuals have been controlled to a large extent, treatment gap remains a huge problem in the country. “There are still many undetected cases that we haven’t been able to reach out to. But at NACO, we have already initiated novel forms of testing through community-based screenings and even self testing. The implementation of such practices should increase detection and timely treatment of AIDS,” said Dr Goyal.
Dr Dewan, UT Health Director, said awareness should began at the primary level through education. “If we make our students aware, they will take this information to their households and this will spread to whole communities,” said Dr Dewan.