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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Bad blood: Maharashtra ranks 3rd in HIV cases by transfusion

Mumbai: As many as 276 people in Maharashtra were infected with HIV while getting a blood transfusion over the last one and half years, ranking the state at a worrisome third position.

In an RTI response, the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has revealed that
2,234 people across the country got transfused with HIV-infected blood in the same period, raising serious concerns about blood safety .

Uttar Pradesh recorded the maximum number of transfusion transmitted HIV cases at 361followed by Gujarat at 292 cases. Delhi grabbed the fourth position with 264 cases.

Maharashtra has recorded more than 1,239 such cases over the last six years. While activists are alarmed with the findings, NACO insisted that the data is not a real indicator as it is based on voluntary disclosure by clients at the integrated counselling and testing centres (ICTC).

A senior NACO official told TOI, "The numbers are self-reported. It's not corroborated further by following up with blood tests. The overall situation is actually much better now. In 1999, transfusion transmitted HIV was 15%, which has now come down to less than 1%." The official added that the issue of safe blood can be best addressed with an Act that most developed nations have.

The Maharashtra State Aids Control Society said that most clients at the ICTC give a history of blood transfusion even if they have indulged in unsafe sex or injecting drugs."The fact is that at least 90% of HIV transmissions still occur through sexual intercourse," said Dr Shobhna Tehra, joint director of the society .

A doctor, who has been crusading for safe blood, said that the government has not showed any urgency to bring in advanced tests, such as nuclear acid testing, that cut down the HIV detection window period to six days from three months. "They are risking the life of poor patients. The worst hit are thalassemia patients who have to take regular transfusions," said RTI activist Chetan Kothari.

Tehra said that the department is working on a proposal for NAT in NACOsupported blood banks in Maharashtra. India reported 2,234 cases of HIV infection spread through blood transfusion between October 2014 and March 2016 and this amounts to less than 1% of the total number of cases, the government has said.

National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and the health ministry said in 2009-10 India reported 2,711 such cases and the number of people affected with HIV due to blood transfusion have reduced drastically over the past 15 years tho ugh the government con tinues to aim for zero transmission. 
The government's at tempt to place the numbers in context came after NACO provided the statistics to an RTI query , which said 2,234 persons were infected with HIV while receiving blood transfusions in the 17 months under review.

Officials also said the data is "not scientific" as it is based on subjective responses received from people visiting for HIV testing. "There are several occasions when patients do not declare the exact reason or means of transmission because of societal pressure or even lack of awareness.Therefore, the data cannot be considered 100% accurate," a senior official at NACO said.
However, the government maintained it is also working towards stringent blood safety screening and to introduce technologies to ensure zero transmission. In India, NACO has been primarily responsible for ensuring transfer of safe blood.

According to the 2015 annual report, till September 2014, NACO's total blood collection was around 30 lakh units. The total number of people living with HIV in India was estimated at around 20.9 lakh in 2011. Nearly 86% of these patients are in the 15-49 age-group. Children less than 15 years of age accounted for 1.45 lakh of all infections in 2011 while 39% were among women.

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