Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
While the HIV epidemic around the world seems to be slowing down, Maharashtra’s statistics are dismal in the sense that in 2018-19, the state has recorded the highest number of HIV related deaths. For the last two years, Maharashtra was behind Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka when it came to HIV-related deaths.
The latest statistics have reportedly been compiled from the website of the central health ministry’s health management information system (HMIS). Reportedly, the state reported 1,509 deaths during the period, compared to 1,361 deaths between April 2017 and March 2018. This is an 11% increase over the previous year. Additionally, the data showed that most of the deaths took place in rural pockets of the state. The data has been compiled by an RTI activist Chetan Kothari.
According to The Times Of India, Kothari said that out of every 17 HIV-related deaths in Maharashtra, 16 are from rural areas. Moreover, out of the total number of deaths, only 88 were from Urban spaces. He added that this goes on to show that people in urban spaces have better access to the healthcare system than in rural areas. Kothari has found that the worst districts in this regard are Pune (270 deaths), Mumbai (128 deaths) and Sangli (103 deaths) respectively. He also found that most deaths in Mumbai have been listed as “rural deaths” in the HMIS excel sheet.
However, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) said that the figures could have increased owing to the intensified efforts that have been made to trace patients who had abandoned treatment at government centres in the past two years. Dr Manish Bamrotiya, the national consultant with NACO said, “It is possible that in many reported cases, the deaths may have occurred more than two years ago, but were reported after the government actively started tracing the loss to follow-up patients.”
Moreover, the HMIS data is primary and is taken from hospitals, whereas, data from AIDS control societies like MSACS (Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society) and MDACS (Mumbai District AIDS Control Society) is more refined and studied. The officials also informed that any increase in HIV deaths should be viewed against the fact that the state of Maharashtra also has the highest number of People Living with HIV (PLHIV). However, the officials of the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) which monitors the implementation of HIV/AIDS control programme in the state refuted with the data, saying that there are discrepancies in the urban-rural statistics.
Hindustan Times reported that data obtained by the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society in 2018 showed that before 2012, there were 15,000 losses to follow-up cases. Out of these, nearly 30% had passed away. The efforts to look after patients with such cases, began only after NACO launched a nation-wide mission ‘SAMPARK’ to bolster the process of tracing them and restart their antiretroviral therapy (ART).
While government, individual and NGO efforts have helped to slow down the process, there needs to be active indulgence in imparting education and mental health assistance to those who are living with the disease. Much of HIV/AIDS has to do with the social stigma and the lack of proper knowledge which shrouds the disease.
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