HIV patients protest outside the National AIDS Control Organization’s office in Delhi claiming a shortage of antiretroviral drugs. Image Courtesy: ANI Twitter
New Delhi: Protest by a group of HIV-positive people alleging shortage of certain antiretroviral (ARV) drugs continues for almost a month, officials from the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) held a meeting with them and assured fresh supply of medicines.
The officials on Thursday claimed that fresh supplies were being expedited and airlifted to priority locations. However, the protestors said they will continue the dharna until “all HIV patients in India start receiving one month of medicines.”
They have been alleging complete unavailability of certain drugs, including those for children living with HIV, and random shifting to another class of drugs for most of the patients.
They say non-availability of drugs for the next few weeks could lead to serious complications.
Official sources said the officers have been in constant touch with the protestors from the day they launched the dharna at NACO’s Chanderlok office premises.
In the beginning, discussions were held with division heads of NACO and subsequently escalated to the next level-the director of NACO.
Particular efforts have been made to ensure safety of the protestors in terms of making available drinking water, electricity and basic amenities at the NACO office premises, a source said.
“In today’s meeting, the NACO director assured two representatives of significant improvements in the ARV fresh supplies that are being expedited and airlifted to priority locations.
“While the representatives acknowledged these improvements in stock availability and dispensation for one month, especially in Delhi and many other states, they continued to raise anecdotal issues of ‘stock-out’ of ARVs in few states as well as lay instances of patients not receiving drugs,” an official source said.
A protestor told PTI on Thursday, “We are protesting since July 21. Due to heat and outside food, people have started falling ill. We were here on August 15 like prisoners. Entire India was celebrating Independence Day but we were here. The building and the toilets were locked. We had to walk down to the ground floor for basic facilities. One thing that keeps us on our toes is the need of our brothers and sisters in the community.
“Today, we held a meeting with NACO officials and they assured us that every patient in Delhi has started receiving one month of ART. We were asked to call off the protest but we were firm and our response was very clear that we will continue our protest till all HIV patients in India start receiving one month of medicines,” he added.
NACO Additional Secretary and Director General Alok Saxena said the organisation will continue to hear voices of the community and that it believes in the culture of working in partnership with them to design and implement strategies outlined under the National AIDS Control Programme.
He urged the representatives to end the dharna, especially since their demand for ARV drug dispensation for at least one month at a time is met with. Also, he said, since NACO is a government office, protests during weekends will be non-productive.
He also appealed to the representatives to repose their faith in the system, end the protest and vacate the NACO premises, sources said.
“The focus has been on non-confrontational cooperative partnership. Community representatives are always included in meetings of technical resource groups and other consultations of NACO, prior to any major policy or programmatic decision,” the official source said.
“The director said once the protestors lift the dharna, NACO and People Living With HIV (PLHIV) networks can jointly evolve timelines so that the entire machinery is responsive and work is done to everyone’s satisfaction in a time-bound manner.
“Also, according to past practice, key members of the network volunteering to help in streamlining the systems to ensure seamless delivery of ARVs to PLHIV could come to NACO office and engage with officers,” the source said.
The dharna, however, is yet to be called off, he said.
Health ministry officials had earlier said there was enough stock of all ARV drugs at the state level and fresh supply orders for procurement of the next lot of several drugs had been placed.
Individual ART centres may have this issue at times, but the medicines are immediately relocated from nearby centres, they had said.
The government had recently told Lok Sabha that there is adequate stock of ARV medicines for around 95 per cent of people living with HIV in India.