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Second-line HIV drugs to be provided free of cost

New Delhi, April 17: Government committed to providing second-line drugs free of cost to people who develop resistance to the existing treatment for HIV /AIDS.

"As soon as we are able to provide Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) to 100,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, we will introduce second-line drugs," National AIDS Control Organisation Director General Sujatha Rao told reporters here today.

She said they could reach the 100,000 target by January next. "We are committed to provide second-line drugs by next year, maybe, hopefully by January," she said.

At the moment, government is providing free ART drugs to 65,000 people living with HIV/AIDS from its 127 treatment sites, which they plan to increase to 250 by 2009.

"It has been a conscious decision to provide first-line treatment to the positive people first, which is affordable and cheaper to provide. The second-line treatment needs more investment and infrastructure," Rao said at the launch of the WHO/UNAIDS/UNICEF joint report on the latest AIDS treatment figures and the health sector's response to the HIV epidemic.

She said three to four per cent of people who take ART drugs could develop resistance to the first-line drugs in four to five years time. "Once we decide to provide these, we will get the money from international donors," she said.

For the first-line drugs, NACO spends Rs 10,000 per person per year, while the second-line drug would cost them Rs 10,000 per month per person, she said.

Rao said a major concern for them is the "unethical practises" followed by private practitioners who prescribe second-line drugs to HIV/AIDS patients, instead of following the national treatment guidelines of providing the first-line drugs first.

The NACO DG said they are conducting a survey with the help of UNICEF to find out whether private doctors are prescribing second-line drugs.

"We have received reports that doctors force HIV/AIDS patient to shift to second-line drugs as they are costly. This is wrong. What will happen to the person a few years down the line if he develops resistance to it," she said.

She said they could bring a regulation or bring an Act to ensure that doctors follow the norms.

"We could offer private practitioners to be accredited with us if they are prescribing ART treatment. Or we could bring an Act to regulate them. The results of the survey would help us," she said.

She said their main focus is now on prevention and care. There are 5.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.

Citing the example of Botswana and Brazil who are providing second-line drugs, Rao said the two countries have put huge chunk of their budget money on procuring second-line drugs.

"Forty per cent of Brazil's budget is spent on procuring second-line drugs, even though their positive people figure is lesser than us," she said.

According to Teguest Guerma, Associate Director HIV/AIDS Department in WHO Headquarters in Geneva, they are committed to provide people with second-line drugs.

She said a US pharmaceutical company has come forward and is providing the drug on lower prices.

"They are planning to provide these drugs in 118 countries," she said.

Bureau Report


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