In a significant shift, the new Health Minister for India, Shatrughan Sinha, acknowledged on Monday that care and treatment were a necessary part of an appropriate response to HIV in India. India has so far maintained silence on this issue and has continued to make prevention its only agenda.
Sinha assumed his new office only a week ago. This Conference is the first major public event in his new capacity. Shotgun Sinha, as he is popularly known, has been an actor for nearly three decades.
At a special session organized by the UNAIDS country office, the willingness to consider a limited care response was obvious in more than one quarter. “We can afford to consider ARV for women who enroll in the PMTCT programme,” said Chritodass Gandhi, Project Director of the government run AIDS Control Society in Tamil Nadu, a state with an estimated 300,000 people with HIV.
Positive women and men in the room greeted his suggestion with applause and demanded access to treatment for all people in the country. Speaking passionately on behalf of positive women, Daisy from the Indian Network of Positive People (INP+) shouted, “We want drugs. Here in Barcelona we see that so many people in these countries get free drugs. We also deserve to live. Having HIV is not a sin.”
There is increasing recognition from activists on the ground that treatment access should be part of the prevention agenda, both on pragmatic as well as moral grounds. With proof that low viral loads are an effective barrier to transmission, millions of babies born to positive mothers can be HIV-free. India is on the verge of dramatically scaling up a PMTCT project that has shown high rates of effectiveness in its pilot phase.
AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team