Adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is strongly correlated with HIV viral suppression, reduced rates of resistance, an increase in survival, and improved quality of life. Yet there are numerous cases in India of people living with HIV who exist in co-morbid conditions: dependent on substances but dropping their ART regime due to societal stigma and discrimination or to a lack of understanding about the need to adhere to treatment.
Lamyanba (name changed) from Imphal has been injecting drugs since 1989. When he tested positive for HIV recently, he had a dangerously low CD4 count of 19 and was immediately put on ART. He responded favourably to treatment, and his CD4 count increased to 600 in a span of six months. When his health improved, he decided to stop the treatment without consulting a doctor or service provider. Lamyanba’s decision is unfortunately too common.
Recognizing that people who inject drugs (PWID) living with HIV frequently drop out from ART treatment, the Hridaya programme is undertaking active monitoring to address this problem. A tracking tool has been developed to monitor a client’s routine diagnostics. The tool indicates the dates for ART follow-ups, and an outreach worker contacts clients to remind them of their follow-up appointments. Outreach workers also keep a check on client CD4 counts.
Supported by Government of Netherlands, Hridaya works in the states of Bihar, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Manipur to strengthen harm reduction interventions at state and district levels. Aiming to cover all PWID in these states, the programme focuses on the unmet harm reduction needs of vulnerable drug-using populations and complements HIV prevention activities in each state under India’s National AIDS Control Programme.
Hridaya routinely educates PWID living with HIV about positive prevention focusing on the value of adhering to ART treatment. The programme team works with clients to identify barriers to accessing ART treatment and advises on the need for strict adherence to the treatment regime. In Imphal, Hridaya aims to keep 95 percent of clients on treatment and minimize loss-to-follow-up. With this support, Lamyanba is back on ART, leading a healthy positive life.
The author of this blog, Roshan Ningthoujam, is programme manager for Hridaya at Social Awareness Service Organisation (SASO) in Manipur, India.
Spanning five countries (India, China, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia), Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR) expands harm reduction services to more than 180,000 people who inject drugs (PWID), their partners and children. The programme protects and promotes the rights of these groups by fostering an enabling environment for HIV and harm reduction programming in these five countries. CAHR is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Netherlands.
In India, CAHR is called ‘Hridaya’ and is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in partnership with SASO, Sharan and a number of community-based harm reduction organisations and networks. This programme helps build the capacity of service providers, makes harm reduction programmes more gender-responsive, improves access to services and advocates for the rights of PWIDs. In addition to providing services, Hridaya has a strong capacity building component to support advocacy, knowledge management and improved services for PWIDs.