ASICON 2013 calls for fully utilizing domestic competencies in fighting AIDS

The 6th National Conference of AIDS Society of India (ASICON 2013) which has brought together over 700 HIV medical experts from across India with a distinguished national and international faculty opened in Mumbai. Dr IS Gilada, President of the conference and also of AIDS Society of India (ASI), said: “to strengthen south-south collaboration between Africa and India and to promote mutual information exchange and learning in fight against AIDS, ASICON 2013 is being inaugurated by Minister of Health from Tanzania.”

Dr Gilada strongly remarked against India’s obsession with external funding and lamented that it undermines (and under-utilizes) India’s domestic resources in the private and public sector, expertise that its healthcare providers have in managing HIV and pharmaceutical capacity that can be a ‘pharmacy to the world’ but fails to provide drugs to all our own people in-need. “Our domestic manufactured generic drugs have same bio-equivalence but costs 1-2% of what a patented medicine will cost. Indian pharmaceutical companies supply medicines to 168 countries globally. What use is to have a cure and not make it available to people in-need?” asked Dr Gilada. He called for recognizing our own competencies in fighting HIV and mobilizing more domestic funding to end AIDS.

Dr Dilip Mathai, Vice President of ASI and formerly with Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore reminded the delegates that there are 28 drugs used in antiretroviral therapy (ART) and another new class of drug (Maraviroc) will be launched at the end of first day of ASICON 2013.

Dr RR Gangakhedkar, Deputy Director of National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) agreed with Dr Gilada and said: "We have a strong track record of providing ART for 9 years now and Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission of HIV (PPTCT) for 12 years. In 2011-2012, India had counselled and tested 19.4 million people. So far 650,000 people have received first-line ART through 380 ART centres, 840 link ART centres and 10 Centres of Excellence. 1.4 million people benefitted from TB-HIV cross-referrals leading to detection of about 46,000 HIV-TB co-infection cases in 2011-2012."

Dr Hussein Mwinyi, Minister of Health of Tanzania and Chief Guest at ASICON 2013 remarked on how important south-south collaboration could be, and said that this is the first incidence when he is opening an AIDS conference outside his country. “Health is recognized as essential component of human development and therefore access to essential medicines is also a basic human right. We appeal to Indian pharmaceutical companies to continue producing essential medicines at affordable prices otherwise people in-need in Africa will not be able to access essential medicines.” The price of ART has come down from USD 20,000 to USD 50 or so per month. There have been innovations in daily dosages too to reduce pill burden with just a single pill to be taken now. This has increased adherence and programme success too.

ASICON meets have a strict ‘no alcohol and no smoking policy’ which does need a mention as alcohol, despite being recognized as a big risk factor for non-communicable diseases, finds a place in social events of medical conferences.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS
December 2013

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