‘Screening HIV, syphilis can cut new HIV cases in India by 7%’

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New York, July 20 (IANS) Combining testing and treatment of HIV with syphilis among sex workers and gay men could reduce the number of new HIV cases in India by seven per cent, and potentially avert over 50,000 new infections, in a decade, says a Lancet report.

The research suggested that using HIV screening, antiretroviral therapy (ART) to treat the infection, and antiviral drugs to prevent disease in uninfected people along with testing and treatment for syphilis in female sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM), can decrease the number of new HIV cases at a national-level by seven per cent between 2018-2028.

It can also potentially avert 51,000 new infections (including 43,000 in MSM, but fewer new infections in female sex workers).

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“Health systems must be designed to meet the needs of the people they serve, including having the capacity to address multiple health problems simultaneously. No one can be left behind in our efforts to achieve sustainable health. We must recognise health as an investment, and increase resources to support stronger, sustainable, and people-centred health systems,” said Professor Chris Beyrer, from the John Hopkins University in Maryland, US.

Further, the combined strategy could also avoid 81,000 AIDS-related deaths (including 59,000 in MSM, and 6,200 in female sex workers) between 2018-2028.

Including testing and treatment of syphilis is estimated to diagnose and treat more than 510,000 new syphilis cases in female sex workers and MSM in 2018 alone, but the long-term effects would depend on infection and re-infection rates, the report noted.

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According to a new Lancet Commission led by the International AIDS Society, a “dangerous complacency” to HIV control, which includes stalling of HIV funding in recent years, could lead to a resurgence of the deadly disease as well as hamper the efforts to end the pandemic by 2030, which has claimed lives of over 35 million people worldwide.

Thrusting on the need for urgent changes to the HIV response, the researchers said that historic “exceptionalism” of HIV treatment and care may no longer be sustainable; services will likely need to be part of wider health care supporting related diseases and conditions.

“The HIV response and the broader global health field must work together. Despite the remarkable progress of the HIV response, the situation has stagnated in the past decade. Reinvigorating this work will be demanding, but the future health and wellbeing of millions of people require that we meet this challenge,” said Linda-Gail Bekker, President of the International AIDS Society and Professor at University of Cape Town, South Africa.

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