M A I N   N E W S

World AIDS Day
Focus on early diagnosis of HIV in infants
700 centres to come up across India next year
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 1
On the 21st World AIDS Day today, India has some reason to rejoice. The good news is that children, the most vulnerable of all to the epidemic, are now much higher on AIDS agenda in the country, with the government receiving extended support from the Global Fund for Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission (PPTCT).

Inspired by this support, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has planned to roll out the early infant diagnosis of HIV/AIDS by 2010 in 700 integrated counselling and testing centres (ICTC) across the country.

The move assumes significance considering early diagnosis is the key to survival and many countries have already made progress in access to such diagnosis though it alone does not guarantee a child access to life-saving treatment.

Some progress has been made on PPTCT front. In 2008, in low and middle-income countries, 45 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral drugs to keep them from passing the virus to their babies. That represents an increase from 35 per cent in 2007; in 2004 the coverage was a meager 10 per cent.

While that can be counted as heartening, there’s a cause of worry for India. As of September 2009, the country had approximately 6,437 centres providing PPTCT services for prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.

Under the PPTCT programme, almost 37 lakh pregnant women were counseled and tested in the country this year. However, only 10,673 women received ARV prophylaxis last year out of an estimated 49,000 positive pregnant women --- a mere 21 per cent coverage, which needs to be extended if women and children are to be protected from the virus. As such almost half of those infected with HIV in India are women, with pediatric care still in a fledgling state.

Another serious concern is the current economic crisis, which is further likely to worsen poverty in households, in turn negatively affecting children’s well-being and reducing households’ ability to cope with additional stress.

“Child-sensitive social protection is a key intervention to reaching children affected by AIDS. It can support poor households to cope and reduce the risk of chronic poverty, which drives children into orphanages, can prevent hazardous child labour and other forms of abuse, as well as supporting greater access to health and education,” says the UNAIDS India office.

It was hoped that the government’s ambitious Integrated Child Protection Scheme would help the cause of reaching out to children who are outside the formal system. The scheme, which had its share of troubles before it was approved by the Cabinet earlier this year, is yet to roll out concretely.



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