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(CNS): Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure. When the number of people affected by a disease decreases, there is a tendency to disregard it as a public-health problem.
Even as the HIV/AIDS epidemic is on the decline in India, we have to intensify, and not dilute, our efforts to have virtual elimination of the disease, emphasised Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, director-in-charge at National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
He spoke with CNS (Citizen News Service) at the sidelines of the 9th National Conference of AIDS Society of India (ASICON 2016). This interview is part of CNS Inspire series -- featuring people who have decades of experience in health and development, and learning from them what went well and not-so-well and how can these learnings shape the responses for sustainable development over the next decade.
Dr Gangakhedkar, an eminent clinician and epidemiologist, has been intensely involved in devising guidelines for HIV management, as well as policy making for HIV/AIDS-control programmes at the national level. Initially trained as a paediatrician, he jumped headlong in the field of HIV/AIDS in 1989, at a time when even the mention of this dreaded disease was a big no-no. He later shifted from Mumbai to Pune when NARI was established in 1993.
Game changers for HIV/AIDS control in India
Mentioning major milestones in HIV/AIDS management in India, Gangakhedkar said, "It was community involvement in decision-making that proved to be the most important game changer. Going beyond just community mobilization, it involved sex-workers, MSMs and injecting drug users representatives sitting with the experts, and giving their opinions on policies and programmatic strategies to reach them."
Another bold step, according to him, was the national investment for prevention of parent-to-child transmission (PPTCT) programme for the mainstream population in 1999, when the Indian government started to invest its own money rather than depend on international donors. It also paved the way for free anti-retroviral therapy for people living with HIV--for the first time in the country's history, the government committed itself to give free treatment for a chronic disease that required life-long treatment.
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