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

New Delhi: 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 health and family welfare department called the information “misleading”. “The total figures are cumulative from April 2007 to May 2024,” it said.

According to TSACS officials, the rise in HIV cases could be due to injecting 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 injecting drug use (IDU).”

It is known that the effects of intravenous drug use are faster and stronger than those of drugs swallowed, smoked or inhaled. Dr. Gilada said that in addition to HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B and syphilis, among others, are also easily transmitted through intravenous drug use, 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 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 the quality of life by weakening the immune system, making victims vulnerable to opportunistic infections and 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 defenses, exposing people to attacks 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 was key and stressed the need to educate youth about the dangers of drugs and reinforce the message about unsafe injection practices. “It is also important to ensure that they have access to support systems and positive ways to let off steam. If you or someone close to you is suffering from addiction, do not hesitate to seek help. Counselling and rehabilitation centres can provide the support needed to overcome addiction and live a healthy life,” he said. (IANS)

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