M A I N   N E W S

HIV test price cut to half
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 2
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has positive news for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). In a path-breaking move that seeks to encourage early testing of HIV/AIDS in India and reduction in mortality, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has significantly reduced the cost involved in getting the CD-4 count test.

Until now, each test would cost Rs 500, but not any longer. NACO has notified that the cost of the test will henceforth be half of what it used to be. PLHWAs, who have not yet enrolled for the anti-retroviral therapy (ART), will now be required to pay only Rs 250 for the test.

Further, this test will now be free of cost for all HIV-infected children and HIV positive patients living below the poverty line (BPL). Till October 26 this year — when NACO made the notification — the test was being offered free of cost only to patients already on ART. This test requires to be repeated after every six months.

NACO’s notification is significant as it will motivate people to go in for CD-4 count test early and for early treatment of HIV.

The CD-4 count test is the only sure shot way of determining the level of immunity in the infected person’s body. It assesses the extent of damage the virus has caused and detects opportunistic infections like TB in the PLHWA’s body.

If an infected person’s CD-4 count is below 200, he is immediately put on ART to slow down the progression from HIV to AIDS. Unfortunately, many PLHWAs get their test done only as the last option either because they are not aware of its importance or because they want to avoid the cost as long as possible.

The results can be disastrous as by the time HIV positive person gets to know his actual health status, the person has reached a critical state where mortality is almost certain.

Very often, such persons report to hospitals with CD-4 counts as lethally low as 10 or even 20. They naturally die of opportunistic infections which they have acquired as part of HIV.

But all that is set to change now. Speaking to The Tribune today, Dr B.B. Rewari from NACO said, “We had been deliberating on this issue for long. The idea of subsidising the test is to encourage HIV positive persons to take it so that they can prepare for the future and plan their treatment.” PLHWAs, however, want the cost to be totally waived off. While NACO does not promise total exemption yet, it does not rule out chances of a complete waiver in the future. Dr Rewari said NACO would be working towards reducing the cost as much as possible.

He added that health being a state subject, the respective state governments should also try and take initiatives to help HIV positive people by warding off the costs involved in medical examination.

West Bengal has made all medical investigations for PLHWAs free. NACO, for its part, is extending as much help as possible to subsidise HIV treatment and testing. Recently, it worked on reducing the cost of ART kits, which are now more affordable than earlier. No wonder NACO has an ART stock to treat 85,000 PLHWAs in India, although currently only 43,000 are on treatment.



CM sued over spurious blood test kits
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, November 2
West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has been accused of shielding “guilty” officials and the employees of the Health Department involved in the supply of spurious blood test kits to blood banks, which caused hepatitis and HIV infection among hundreds of people in the state.

A PIL was filed in the Calcutta High Court against the state government, making the Chief Minister, the Health Minister, Dr Suryakanto Mishra, and the Health Secretary as respondents. The case will come up for hearing next week.

Advocate Arunava Ghosh, a former Trinamool Congress MLA, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, Mr Tapas Sengupta, the father of a thalassaemia patient demanded that the guilty persons should get exemplary punishment for the crime they had committed. He wondered how the Chief Minister could give a clean chit to the Health Department prior to any investigation.

Mr Sengupta’s son was recently infected with HIV following a blood transfusion after it was tested by a spurious test kit. He has held the Chief Minister and the Health Minister responsible for it. He said after the exposure of the Rs 2.5 crore blood test kit scam, the Chief Minister has no moral right to be in the chair.

In the petition filed in the high court, Mr Ghosh pleaded that those people who had received blood which was examined with spurious test kits during the past one-and-a-half-year should be prevented from donating any blood to stop the spread of hepatitis and HIV infection.

He said the court should appoint an independent expert team to probe the entire procedure of supplying of test kits to government hospitals and blood banks by a sole supplier, Monozyme India, a Secundrabad-based medicine company for the last 16 months. He alleged that by asking the CBI to probe the matter, the Chief Minister was diluting the state government’s involvement in the scam.

Incidentally, the Sarda brothers, who own the company have already been put under detention and have been refused bail. The police was also on the lookout for five persons including the middleman involved in the racket.

But so far, neither the senior IAS official nor the five other employees who were directly connected in ordering the test kits worth over Rs 2.5 crore to Monozyme India, have been arrested or interrogated.

Today, several demonstrations and meetings were organised in Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, West Dinajpur, Malda, Burdwan, Nadia, Howrah, 24-pargans and Kolkata districts.



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