'Drug addicts, truck drivers susceptible to AIDS'

Drug addicts using injectables, truck drivers and vendors working in outside states are most susceptible to the HIV in Kashmir even as J&K has the lowest number of patients infected with the deadly disease across the country.

As per official data at least 5002 patients infected with the AIDS were registered with J&K Aids Control Society. Of the total number of patients only 303 are from Kashmir.

The society’s data shows more men were affected by the disease than women.

A Society official said they have found that most number of patients tested positive for HIV in J&K were drug addicts using injectables, truck drivers, migrant labourers and Kashmiris selling shawls and other handicraft items in outside states.

“It is a new challenge for us particularly,” said the official.

The AIDs (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) has consumed 1,061 lives in J&K, as per the data of the Society.

“We have the lowest cases of HIV in entire country. The cases are the lowest in the Valley,” said the official.

The official said drug users particularly infected with the disease were being treated at OST (opiad substitution therapy) treatment centers.

The HIV transmits through three main causes including unscreened blood transfusion, use of unsterilized syringes, and through unprotected cohabitation or through various bodily fluids.

The disease is curable through anti-retroviral therapy (ART), where a patient has to take medicine for entire life.

J&K has two ART centers – one at SKIMS hospital and another at Government Medical College (GMC) Jammu.

Besides, the Society has established Integrated Counseling Testing Center (ICTC) in every tertiary care hospital and district hospitals. The Facility Integrated Counseling Testing Center (FICTC) have also been set up at primary health care (PHC) level. The testing, treatment and counseling is provided free of cost to the patients at these facilities.

However, according to the Society the worry is that the disease was still being considered as “taboo” preventing the patients to discuss it with family or doctors and hence acting as “ticking bombs” and making lives of other susceptible as well.

Another official at the Society recalled the case of a young woman (identity withheld) who was tested positive for HIV.

The patient was referred for treatment to Anti-retroviral Therapy Center at SKIMS where she was recovering well, said the official.

However, the officials said, the patient suddenly stopped coming to the center and they lost contact with her.

“More than a year later, the patient contacted us to tell us that she got married and was expecting. She hadn’t disclosed her disease to her husband owing to the fear of being chastised,” said the officials, adding the patient did not only put her own life at risk by stopping treatment, but she also put life of her husband and child in danger.

 “This kind of attitude is making a patient a ticking bomb,” said the official.

The Society officials said they were creating awareness about the HIV informing people that a patient can live a normal life if given proper medication. However, he said, lot of efforts were needed to weed out “unnecessary social stigma” attached with the disease.

“We are now trying to disseminate information through religious clerics about the disease. That is why we have chosen this year’s theme on World AIDS Day as ‘Community makes the difference’,” said the officials.