Indian AIDS patients abandoned amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Despite lower figures, HIV-infected patients still number 2.3 million in India and are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. For Dr Pascoal Carvalho (Pontifical Academy for Life), “Governments and health authorities have a greater obligation to reach out and ensure continued access to medical care ana adequate drugs to such patients.” Through its own outreach, the Catholic Church plays a leading role in the fight against HIV-AIDS.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – In India, World AIDS Day (1 December) provided an opportunity to look at HIV, especially as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the latest data, 2,348,000 people are living with HIV-AIDS in India, but the country does not have an adequate HIV-AIDS policy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made already vulnerable people more because of the lack of financial aid, health services and psychological support.
No specific study has looked at mortality from COVID-19 among HIV-positive people, but as a result of the disease, HIV-AIDS patient’s immune system becomes more prone to viral attack.
For such patients it is as if they have to fight several infections and pandemics at once, not to mention access to food, health treatments, and reduced social life.
In India, the resources and facilities used in the fight against HIV have been diverted for the COVID-19 emergency.
Lockdowns have not only made it harder for the sick to undergo regular check-ups, but have also limited testing to identify new cases and curbed access to antiretroviral drugs.
“CD4 cells, also called T cells, are white blood cells that help generate an immune response and fight infection,” said Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, speaking to AsiaNews.
“HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells. Once CD4 cell numbers are seriously compromised, the immune system is totally unregulated and patients become susceptible to common infections,” Dr Carvalho explained.
What is more, “an already vulnerable population that is socially stigmatised because of their HIV status, COVID-19 increases psychosocial burdens due to stress and isolation.”
Hence, COVID-19 thus poses a clear risk to AIDS patients. In light of this, “Governments and health authorities have a greater obligation to reach out and ensure continued access to medical care ana adequate drugs to such patients.”
Fortunately, “the Catholic Church in India, through the apostolate of health, is at the forefront of HIV prevention and control, as it has been in our country from the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
In recent years, India has recorded a significant decline in HIV-AIDS: 2,348,000 registered patients in 2019, 37 per cent less than in 2010 and 86 per cent less than in 1997.
However, the country ranks third in the world for the number of people with HIV-AIDS. Despite this, India has no hospital dedicated to HIV treatment. In July 2020 it had 570 Anti-retroviral treatment (ART) centres and 1,264 Link ART facilities,