‘State has 36,000 HIV+ people in the grey zone who are unaware of the infection’

Of the 6.51 lakh units of blood collected in Karnataka from April 2012 to March 2013, 1,096 were found to be HIV positive and therefore discarded. Shockingly, of these, a mere 236 (21.5 per cent) HIV+ people were referred to Integrated Testing and Counselling Centres (ICTC) for further counselling and treatment.

What happened to the remaining is unknown, thanks to a loophole in the law. While the National Blood Transfusion Council guidelines say that every blood bank should have an HIV-AIDS counsellor, it is not a rule under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act under whose purview blood banks come.

Seeing red

Sources in the Karnataka AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS) told The Hindu Thursday that after a sample tests positive for HIV, it is mandatory that the person be counselled and persuaded to undergo treatment. All the 45 government blood banks in the State have counsellors but not all private blood banks.

State Drugs Controller B.R. Jagashetty, who confirmed that having a counsellor in blood banks was not mandatory under the Act, admitted there was a possibility of the infection spreading.

During blood donation drives, every sample is mandatorily tested for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, malaria and syphilis. Samples that test positive for any of these infections is discarded. In 2012, a total of 8,589 were discarded in all for carrying one or more of these infections. According to the KSAPS, the prevalence of hepatitis B virus was the highest among the discarded samples while 5,811 tested positive for hepatitis B and 1,185 for hepatitis C.

HIV prevalence

According to the National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO) Fact Sheet for 2012, the percentage of adult HIV prevalence in the State in March 2012 remained at 0.63 per cent with 2.45 lakh infected persons.

Of these, 2.09 lakh are registered at the 49 anti-retroviral therapy (ART) centres. “Karnataka still has around 36,000 positive people in the grey zone who are unaware of the infection. It is very important to reach them to effectively control the spread of HIV,” said an HIV activist.

Fairly manageable

According to HIV specialist Glory Alexander, the infection is as manageable as diabetes or hypertension now, provided the patient strictly adheres to drugs and follows a proper diet and nutrition regime. For this, it has to be detected early and the person has to undergo proper counselling.