In the late 1990s, I was working in a small [Government] Taluk Hopsital. HIV 'Positive' persons I saw in my practise were few and I was happy to refer them to higher centres.
Then I got transferred to a busy District Headquarters Hospital in 2001. There I could not escape dealing with 'positive' persons.
Every week the infectious disease ward will see a new 'positive' patient coming to die.
Most of them by then might have spend a fortune on magical remedies. The most infamous among them was the medicines of Fair Pharma from Kochi. For more detailed information about how one Majeed cheated poor patients and build the costliest house in Kerala click here. Now fortunately the 'medicine' is banned in Kerala by the Court after a longstanding legal battle with 'Positive' people and PUCL.
The patients in my hospital were given symptomatic treatment and left to die. Some come and die alone while the more lucky ones have a wife or mother to be with them during their last days.
I was depressed seeing all these deaths.
What can I do for them? I asked myself.
I had no experience in treating HIV/AIDS patients. In the medical college where I studied in early and mid 1990s, 'positive' persons were rarely seen. I knew a lot from the text books but practical knowledge was nil.
Those days the Government was giving lot of training in HIV/AIDS for doctors and other health care workers, but it was only about prevention.
HIV/AIDS is a death sentence. So train yourself and others how not to get it.
This was the message of such trainings. Nobody mentioned treatment. We were not trained to cope with these dying 'positive' patients.
In the developed world by the year 2000, more than 10 drugs were available effective in treating HIV/AIDS. Few were available in India too at that time. They were expensive and somewhat toxic but still they worked. And they were cheaper than the Fake medicines of Fair Pharma.
More over, HIV/AIDS patients need treatment for opportunistic infections that attack them as their immunity is low.
So when a 'positive' patient is sick, first we have to find out which opportunistic organism or organisms have infected him/her. Then give the proper treatment so that he/she becomes better. Later, ART [anti retro viral therapy] was started. Some time in severely sick patient we may have to start both treatments together.
Training myself in HIV/AIDS management, I started treating these patients in earnest. I procured medicines from drug companies directly and thus was able to give it to patients much below market rates. The stigma of buying such medicines from Drug Store was circumvented as I myself provided the medicines.
The results were dramatic. Patients in death bed about to say their final prayers were able to look after themselves with in months. Those who sticked on to the medication schedule for more than a year began working and earn for themselves.
I lost many patients too, but I tried my level best. Some came to me at a very late stage. Many could not continue the medicines because of the high cost of ART. Many by then had become social outcasts and committed suicide.
I urged other Physicians to take up the challenge of HIV. I conducted lectures in the IMA[Indian Medical Association]. I told them that it was ,we the modern medicine doctors, who are making the 'positive' persons go to Quacks like Majeed [Fair Pharma]. As we are not ready to take care of them, they are helpless. Unscrupulous persons squeeze out the last penny from them giving false hopes.
That made some difference. Few of my colleagues started taking up such cases.
By 2003-2004, things started changing in a positive direction for 'positives'. ART drugs became cheaper. India became one of the biggest manufacturer and exporter of cheap generic HIV drugs. Govt of India started giving ART drugs free of cost at selected centres. Kerala Government followed suit.
The emphasis in training of health care workers shifted from prevention to treatment. From a 'death sentence' HIV/AIDS became projected as a chronic manageable disease needing lifelong medication like Diabetes.
Now a 'Positive' person comes to my clinic every other day. Most of them are old patients coming for follow up. A newly detected 'positive' person is seen once or twice a month. Most of them are taking the free ART drugs from Medical Colleges. Some who can afford [and is afraid of perceived stigma at Govt centres] take medicines from me.
Deaths occur but only rarely.
I cherish the sight of happy faces and healthy bodies of all those positive persons. That sight make my life meaningful.