Sunday, 26 October 2008

Meds of life

Five years ago, with a lot of fear and trembling, we started our first HIV positive friend on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs. Tarun was a boy of 11 at the time. He repeatedly fell sick. In those days Tarun would be brought by his grandmther to the clinic every 2 weeks with some complaint.

Today Tarun is just about to turn 17 and take his 10th standard exams in March! His CD4 count has risen - showing that his immune system is functioning again. Tarun is able to life life pretty much like most other boys of his age.

The difference (along with prayer) has been the anti-retroviral medications that he has been taking faithfully - every day - over the last 5 years.

We are blessed to be in a country where the government is providing the ART medications free. While there are real challenges in the government set up where these medictions are given - we also see so much impact on the lives of people with HIV like Tarun.

At JSK we are currently monitoring and following up about 100 people who are getting their ART meds from the goverment ART centres. An informal audit last year showed that we had been able to get over 90% of the people eligible for ART into the system and onto the drugs.

Its a challenge for anyone to start on a therapy that has to be taken life-long - but it has and is making the difference between life and death for so many.

The tragedy is that many do not access the medications because they are afraid of others finding out their HIV status.

So many want the 'miracle cure' - a one-shot course of medication that will take the virus away forever. The suburban railway compartments are full of advertisements that promise a cure from AIDS. Always for a sum - and never a way to track down the charlatans and quacks behind these claims.

Some start on the meds but find it hard to continue because side-effects. Others are in precarious situations and are not able to be regular with their medications. The challenge of maintaining the 95% adherence needed for the drugs to do their thing is immense.

This is one place where we can come along side our friends with HIV. To help encourage men and women with HIV to monitor the disease progression in their lives - and start the ART meds at the right time. To prepare them to be faithful to taking the meds for them to really be effective. To encourage them to keep on taking them if minor side-effects crop up. To guide them to medical advice should major side-effects occur. To be there - as friends and guides, to listen, share and pray - being alongside to make sure the meds are taken - and our friends' immunities are being restored.

We are still a long way from universal access to ART meds - especially in the rural parts of our country = but what a tremendous step forward from where we were 5 years ago.

These meds have brought life to many. May they bring life to many more!

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