India can have a positive outlook towards AIDS: Dr Jatinder Bhatia

World Aids Day is observed on December 1 every year. The theme of World Aids Day from 2011 to 2015 is about ‘Getting to Zero’ – Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.

While people from around the world unite to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, Dr Jatinder Bhatia, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. takes you one step closer to the real scenario in India.

Dr Bhatia, who has over two decades of experience in Laboratory Medicine and is a designated assessor for National accreditation Board of Labs, answers questions on why the disease is found predominantly in the under 30 age group, on where India can see itself in the global AIDS scenario in the immediate future and more, in this exclusive interview by Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy.

What is the most important fact on AIDS that your new survey has thrown up?
After a pan-India survey, conducted by Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. ahead of the ‘World AIDS Day, the data that we have collected reveals that the group most afflicted with HIV is that of the under 30 year-olds. As on date, this result shows that the focus of research and further action should be on this age group.

Statistics show that the 0-30 years age group is the maximum afflicted one. What could be the reason considering the low level of exposure to risks?
As I said earlier, the survey results are alarming. The reasons for increase of prevalence in this age group are:

a)     More and more youngsters are resorting to unsafe sex.

b)     Awareness at school/college levels is low

c)      Over the last 20 years, sexual habits in the country have changed. Children are exposed to western culture as early as 13 or 14 and AIDS is among the side effects of this exposure.

Which are the three simplest tests used to detect HIV? When should a person get an AIDS test done?

The basic screening tests are CARD, CMIA and Elisa. These tests should be made a mandatory part of the regular health check ups conducted by corporate companies; they should be included in antenatal checkups; they should also be made a part of annual check ups for high school and college students.

A HIV positive person exhibits generalised symptoms like low-grade fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Even blood tests done in unhygienic places makes a person suspect.

Studies show that prevalence of the virus is declining. What could be the cause for this?
In India, the disease was at its peak in 1995. Over the years, widespread awareness campaigns have made people aware of the prevention methods and has helped to reduce the number of cases.

In the last decade, there is a 50% reduction in HIV positive cases.

While awareness of the disease is one aspect of this issue, there is not much data to show that the virus is actually not as virulent.

Where do you think India will figure on the global AIDS epidemic scenario in 5 years from now?

We can ascertain from the data available that the active cases have reduced greatly.  India is not behind the rest of the world in terms of awareness and testing facilities. So, we can be sure to see a further decline in the number of cases in the next 5 years. And that helps us have a positive outlook towards management of the disease.