Kohima: In the battle against the coronavirus, all attention and resources of the state government have been put in to combat the spread of COVID-19, depriving the key population — injecting drug users (IDUs), people living with HIV (PLHIV) and tuberculosis (TB) patients — of the “right to treatment”.
While COVID-19 is a “concern for all” and must be fought “collectively”, health activists from Kohima said that it is now time for the state government to give equal attention to other health care services such as treatment for Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and Opioid substitution therapy (OST) are being hampered or stopped.
During an interaction with media persons on Sunday, Access to Rights and Knowledge (ARK) Foundation president Ketholelie Angami said that as people with underlining problems are more vulnerable to the virus, the health issues of the key population must also be addressed simultaneously.
He added that the deployment of both ART doctors and nurses on COVID-19 duty in Dimapur has deprived the access to treatment in the district which has one of the highest numbers of PLHIV.
According to the Nagaland State Aids Control Society (NSACS), a total of 18,205 patients are registered in HIV care, 8,100 on first line ART, 202 on second line ART, 1,114 children living with HIV (CLHIV) in HIV care and 496 CLHIV on ART as of March last year.
Network of Naga People Living with HIV/AIDS (NNP+) president Lanu Aier revealed that the ART centre in Dimapur has been functioning for over a week without any doctors. He said that the two ART doctors are also assigned for COVID-19 duty and are unable to attend to the clients on ART.
In May, a total of 29 new cases were registered cases in Dimapur district alone, taking the total to 11,011 PLHIV registered in HIV care of which –5,349 are male and 5,014 are female, 14 under TS/TG and 634 children below 15 years [male-303 and female-331].
With no access to ART services, the number of “missed cases” and “lost to follow up” (LFU) have also increased in Dimapur. He said that although most PLHIV persons are from poor economic background and cannot access treatment at private hospitals, most private hospitals refer these cases back to the ART centres at the district hospitals, which are converted to COVID-19 hospitals.
Although the NGOs along with the NSACS has also written a letter to the health department seeking the exemption of medical officers and nurses at the ART Centre in Dimapur from COVID-19 duty, he said that no response has been received from the department.
Meanwhile, with just two TB hospitals in the state, one at Khuzama under Kohima district and the other at Mokokchung, the TB hospital at Khuzama has been converted to a quarantine centre. Network of Nagaland Drugs and AIDS Organisations (NNagaDAO) president, Abou Mere, said that since the TB Hospital in Khuzama has stopped admitting patients, the government must disclose its plan on where the TB patients should go to receive treatments.
Mere recalled instances of how patients were wrongly diagnosed to be TB patients at some private hospitals, expressing concern that neglecting the health issues of the key population is depriving them of the “right to treatment”.
The health activists also pointed that in some districts, there are hindrances on delivery of OST services to injecting drug users and that baseline clinical investigation and treatments are also being stopped which has hampered the access for new ART services.
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