Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death, accounting for almost one third of all deaths worldwide as a direct consequence of risky human behavior, fast paced lifestyle, increased travel, inappropriate use of antibiotic drugs, as well as mutations in pathogens
But the worst is yet to come as new and reemerging infectious diseases pose a even greater threat to global health and security over the next 20 years endangering citizens and threatening armed forces deployed overseas, argues Dr Narender K. Gupta, a reputed NRI doctor and a board certified Fellow with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Ohio, USA and President Society for Medicare, a Delhi based Ngo in the field of medical education, awareness and capacity building to save human lives. Dr Gupta was recently elected as one of one hundred physicians in USA to join the Vascular Biology Group at the University of Florida to research the multiple effects of hypertension, high cholesterol and renal dialysis on the blood vessels of the body.
According to Dr Gupta despite the fact that India has one of the world’s highest numbers of people , over 5.7 million HIV-positive people, suffering from HIV/AIDS patients, sex education remains a taboo in most parts of the country
According to Dr Gupta, the only answer breaking this vicious cycle lies in starting a massive nation-wide ‘Quit India Movement to banish HIV and other related infections’ like the mass movement started by Mahatma Gandhi to liberate the country from the British.
At least six Indian states– Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka have banned sex education or refused to include it in their curriculum on the pretext that it encourages permissiveness among young people and is hence has no place in Indian culture. All this is bound to have serious consequences as India already has 165,000 reported AIDS cases of which around 50,000 are in the age group of 15-29 years.
Another alarming trend observed by a recent survey is that one in four Indian females aged between 18 – 30 years have experience sex before marriage. The survey across 11 major cities of the country concluded that over 40 percent of Indian women have not even heard of AIDS, creating a dangerous combination of lack of knowledge and greater sexual activity.
According to Dr Gupta closing the eyes to the problem and banning sex education from the school curriculum on the grounds that it offends Indian sensibilities is certainly not the best way to solving the problem as this indirectly puts young lives at risk and jeopardises the fight against AIDS.
‘Its a deadly game which the killer twins HIV and HCV want us to lose but the real issue is can India be left at the mercy of HIV/AIDS’ he says
Outlining five major dangers due to this kind of short sighted approach, he says. The foremost danger is 550,000 HIV patients in India already have AIDS and another 300,000/ year will develop AIDS over the next 15-20 years. Apart from this with 600 new HIV infections in India every hour- close to 21,000 children are getting newly infected and 30,000 HIV%2Bve babies are being born every year. Thirdly according to World Bank estimates India already has 2 million children, the largest number AIDS orphans in the world who are expected to double in next five years.
Yet another danger worth mentioning is that deaths from HCV known as ‘silent killer’ are expected to triple in the next 10-20 years and surpass that of AIDS. More than a million such deaths by 2020.
Finally 18 million Indians, many of whom do not know they are infected with HCV – quarter of them may develop chronic liver disease in the next 10 to 15 years
‘The only way India can fight and win this battle is through a combination of awareness and early detection of the diseases so that the potential spreaders of the disease could be identified and isolated before any further damage gets done. Also early HIV therapy improves the chances of survival of those already infected by the disease. The benefits of taking medications early include prevention of damage to the immune system without any toxic side-effects of the drugs’ says Dr Gupta
Confirming this hypothesis, in a recent report published in the medical journal Lancet — British researchers have concluded that delays or waiting to start anti retro viral therapy leads to a 28 per cent higher rate of AIDS and deaths, compared with an earlier start to therapy
Earlier is better when it comes to starting treatment for HIV, the report adds.
Before coming up with this analysis Jonathan Sterne of the University of Bristol and his colleagues analyzed levels of CD4 immune cells, an indicator of HIV damage, among more 45, 000 people with HIV in North America and Europe. ‘It is important that people at possible risk of having HIV get tested regularly so that if found to be infected they can receive the necessary care and treatment’ , the report conclude
According to yet another medical finding, early and timely treatment is the key to saving the lives of infants infected with HIV. In a report published in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers in South Africa who studied 377 babies concluded that giving newborns drug therapy right away instead of delaying it until symptoms emerge reduced early infant mortality by 76 per cent and HIV progression by 75 per cent
Treating babies infected with HIV rapidly with drug treatments dramatically reduces their risk of death – the study concluded.
All this prompted officials in U.S., Europe and World Health Organization to recommend immediate treatment of children under one year of age with anti retro viral therapy or ART after the diagnosis instead of waiting until signs of illness appeared.
Dr. Avy Violari of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who led the study has been quoted as saying that ‘HIV attacked the developing immune system extremely quickly. The decline was so rapid, short of seeing the babies every day, you won’t be able to pick up any meaningful changes that would prompt a doctor to start treatment.’
According to the study delays in starting the treatment was the cause of more than one-third of the ‘unexpected and rapid’ deaths recorded at home, with subtle or no early warning symptoms for the parents. In 10 out of 12 cases the cause of death could not even be determined.