TIMES NEWS NETWORK
The state has earned the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of HIV-related deaths (1,509) in the country in 2018-19. It lagged behind Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka at number 3 in the previous two years.
These damning statistics, at a time when the HIV epidemic across the world is slowing down, has been compiled from the website of the central health ministry’s health management information system (HMIS). The data shows that 1,509 HIV deaths took place in Maharashtra between April 1, 2018, and February 28, 2019. This is an 11% increase over the previous year.
The HMIS data also shows that most of the deaths took place in rural pockets.
94% of HIV deaths in Maha from rural areas: RTI data
Of the 1,509 HIV-related deaths in Maharashtra, only 88 took place in urban areas. “Out of every 17 deaths in Maharashtra, 16 are from the rural areas,” said RTI activist Chetan Kothari, who compiled the data. “This shows that people living in urban areas have better access to healthcare systems than those in rural areas.’’ The worst districts as far as deaths are concerned included Pune (270 deaths), Mumbai (128) and Sangli (103). Incidentally, most deaths in Mumbai have also been listed as “rural deaths” in the HMIS excelsheet.
National AIDS Control Organisation officials, however, said any increase in HIV deaths in Maharashtra should be viewed against the fact that it has the highest number of people living with HIV (PLHIV). “Andhra Pradesh used to have the highest number, but it has now split. It is not, hence, surprising that Maharashtra now has the largest numbers,” said NACO’s Dr Manish Bamrotiya. “We used to have 10.5 PLHIVs on medications until two years ago, but the number has increased to 13 lakh now,” he added.
In the last two years, NACO started Mission Sampark to locate PLHIVs who were lost. “We found out about deaths that had not been reported to the authorities. Some of these deaths were perhaps added to the overall numbers at a later date, leading to an increase in the number of deaths,” said a senior government official. He added the HMIS data is mainly drawn from hospitals and is primary. The data from AIDS Control Societies such as MSACS (Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society) and MDACS (Mumbai District AIDS Control Society) is more refined and studied.
Officials of Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS), which oversees the implementation of HIV\AIDS control programme in the state, refuted the data. “We have spoken to HMIS officials about this data. The urban-rural divide seems incorrect as far as Maharashtra is concerned,’’ said MSACS joint programme director Dr Pramod Deoraj. Dr Srikala Achraya of MDACS said urban centres had testing centres and field reporting systems that helped early detection and reduced the chance of death.