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Tripura HIV cases are tip of the iceberg: Experts

Tripura HIV cases are tip of the iceberg: Experts

Even as the Government of Tripura issued a clarification on misleading reports of HIV cases in the state, health experts on Wednesday said that it “is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Earlier this month, a senior official from the Tripura AIDS Control Society (TSACS) claimed that 828 students tested HIV positive in Tripura and 47 of them died.

The official stated that 572 of the students are still alive, while many also left the state for higher education.

In a post on the social media platform X.com, the Health & Family Welfare Department of the Tripura Government called it “misleading.”

“The total figures are cumulative from April 2007 to May 2024,” it said.

According to TSACS officials, the spike in HIV cases could have stemmed from injectable drug abuse among students.

Speaking to IANS, Dr Ishwar Gilada, a noted HIV expert said that it “is just the tip of the iceberg -- whether you consider only HIV infection or other infections that can be easily transmitted through injection drug use (IDU).”

IDU is known to have a quicker and stronger effect than drugs that are swallowed, smoked, or inhaled.

Dr Gilada stated that in addition to HIV, Hepatitis-C, Hepatitis-B, and syphilis among others, also get easily transmitted through IDU, rather more efficiently than HIV.

“In addition to sharing needles, IDUs have another risk in sizable proportion, that is, indiscriminate sex and that too unprotected. That further fuels the spread of other STIs as well as HIV infection,” the expert said.

Dr Basavaraj S. Kumbar, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aster Whitefield Hospital, Bengaluru, called the incident of losing 47 young people and having hundreds more infected “a terrible tragedy.”

“The issue also raises concerns on the usage of injectable drugs and should serve as a commercial for not doing this,” he told IANS.

HIV is a devastating disease. It is a serious infection that erodes the quality of life by impairing the immune system thus making its victims susceptible to opportunistic infections besides other health complications.

“Although modern medicine makes it possible for individuals with HIV to live long and productive lives, it requires consistent medications and monitoring by medical experts. The virus weakens the body’s immunities thereby exposing people to attacks from other disease-causing agents. This is a lifetime struggle,” Dr Kumbar said.

Meanwhile, Dr Gilada, a Consultant in HIV/STDs, Unison Medicare and Research Centre, Mumbai, called on the state health authorities for a “comprehensive look and check-up of all children and to deal efficiently with each infection.”

“The major HIV awareness and prevention campaigns that were seen during 2000-2010 in India are now missing. The children born during that period and afterwards, now grown up to teenage and adulthood have escaped prevention campaigns and now thus become victims of HIV and other STIs.

“There is poor thrust on diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of other STIs. All these have fuelled new infections, all over India. More than 70 per cent of new infections are in marginalised communities; which face an extreme degree of stigma and discrimination,” the doctor noted.

Dr Kumbar said that prevention is key and stressed the need to educate young people about the dangers of drugs and reinforce the message of unsafe injection practices.

“Making sure they have access to support systems and positive outlets for their energy is also important. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please seek help. Counselling and rehabilitation centres can provide the support needed to overcome addiction and live a healthy life,” he said.