The most recent figures of new HIV positive cases in Tamil Nadu has revealed that while the state has seen an overall decrease in the number of cases, a new trend has emerged for the aged 60 and above group. If the rate of detection is maintained in the current level, by March 2019, we could see an increase in the number of cases in persons above the age of 60.
According to the data released by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society (TANSACS), the number of newly-reported HIV cases in Tamil Nadu during 2016-17 was 11,775 while the corresponding figure for the financial year 2017-18 is 10,527 cases. Of the 10,527 cases reported in Tamil Nadu, Chennai reported the highest number of newly-detected HIV cases at 887 cases. Nilgiris had the lowest tally at 36 new cases.
In 2018-19, the data till October 2018 shows that the cases reported by persons aged 60 and above is 435. If the trend goes on, the number of new cases in this age group will end up being higher than what was reported in 2017-18.
‚ÄúThis is indeed a worrying trend. Even we have noticed that there has been an upward movement in the number of cases detected among senior citizens. It could be because a good share of them are single having lost their spouses and they engage in conjugal relations without proper measures to safeguard themselves,‚ÄĚ says Senthilraj K, project director of TANSACS.
Why is Chennai ranked top in the list of new cases?
Data from 2013-14 shows that Chennai has recorded the maximum number of new cases every year since 2013-14, except one year, till date.
Senthilraj attributes the high number of cases to the city's booming population as well as to the psychology of people who are HIV positive. ‚ÄúChennai has a good percentage of migrant population who are natives of other districts in TN and are working here. So they all will be registered in one of the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) centres in Chennai. Hence the numbers show up as a drastic spike in Chennai. Also, many people from other districts choose to get their confirmation and drugs from Chennai wanting anonymity. That could also be a reason for the sharply high figure,‚ÄĚ he adds.
HIV cases sent from various district level hospitals and Primary Health Centres (PHC) are sent to ART centres for confirmation and therapy. ART centres use multiple tests to confirm that the patient is HIV positive and ensure that they receive a proper treatment schedule.
For comparison, Chennai has five ART centres whereas bigger districts Madurai and Coimbatore have one and two respectively.
The way forward
The trend of HIV positive cases in Tamil Nadu has been declining consistently. In 2013-14, 15,987 cases were identified, while in 2017-18 the number stands at 10,527.
In light of the favourable decrease, TANSACS now plans to forge ahead with its goal of a HIV-free state by 2030 by introducing community-oriented testing for HIV. Explaining the concept, Senthilraj says that it will help to bring more people to the labs to get themselves tested. ‚ÄúThe key is not to abstain from testing. On the contrary, the focus should be on including more people in the drill by creating awareness among the people. In fact, we have identified vulnerable blocks and areas in every district where we plan to go every week to talk to people and make them take the test. We believe that will help us achieve the goal by the set time,‚ÄĚ he says.