HIV cases in Tripura are just tip of the iceberg, experts say

New Delhi, July 10: As the Tripura government issued a clarification on misleading reports of HIV cases in the state, health experts on Wednesday said it was just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Earlier this month, a senior official of the Tripura Aids Control Society (TSACS) claimed that 828 students had tested positive for HIV in Tripura and 47 of them had died. The official said 572 of these students were still alive, while many had also left the state to pursue higher studies.

In a post on social media platform, the Tripura government’s Department of Health and Family Welfare called the information “misleading”.

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

According to TSACS officials, the rise in HIV cases could be due to injection drug abuse among students.

Speaking to IANS, Dr Ishwar Gilada, a leading HIV expert, said, “This is just the tip of the iceberg – whether you look at HIV infection alone or other infections that can be easily transmitted through injection drug use (IDU).”

It is known that UDI has a faster and stronger effect than drugs that are swallowed, smoked or inhaled.

Dr Gilada said that in addition to HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B and syphilis, among others, are also easily transmitted by IDUs, much more efficiently than HIV.

“In addition to sharing needles, IDUs run another significant risk, that of indiscriminate and, moreover, unprotected sexual intercourse. This promotes the spread of other STIs as well as HIV infection,” the expert said.

Dr Basavaraj S. Kumbar, consultant internal medicine at Aster Whitefield Hospital in Bengaluru, called the incident that claimed 47 lives and infected hundreds of others a “terrible tragedy”.

“This issue also raises concerns about injecting drug use and should serve as an advertisement not to do so,” he told IANS.

HIV is a devastating disease. It is a serious infection that erodes quality of life by weakening the immune system, making its victims vulnerable to opportunistic infections in addition to other health complications.

“Although modern medicine allows people with HIV to live long and productive lives, it requires regular medication and monitoring by medical experts. The virus weakens the body’s immune system, exposing people to attack by other pathogens. It is a lifelong battle,” said Dr Kumbar.

Meanwhile, Dr Gilada, a consultant in HIV/STD at Unison Health Insurance and Research Centre in Mumbai, called on state health authorities to conduct “complete screening and monitoring of all children and treat every infection effectively”.

“The major HIV awareness and prevention campaigns that took place between 2000 and 2010 in India are no longer relevant. Children born during this period and after, now adolescents and adults, have escaped the prevention campaigns and are now victims of HIV and other STIs.

“Diagnosis, prevention and treatment of other STIs are poorly addressed. All this has fuelled new infections across India. More than 70% of new infections occur in marginalised communities, who face extreme levels of stigma and discrimination,” the doctor noted.

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

“It is also important to ensure that those affected have access to support systems and positive outlets for their energy. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, do not hesitate to seek help. Counseling and rehabilitation centers can provide the support needed to overcome addiction and live a healthy life,” he said.

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