CHITWAN, NEPAL (November 20) – There are nearly 30 million people living in Nepal, and according to recent statistics from the United Nation’s AIDS program (UNAIDS) an estimated 64,000 of those people are living with HIV. But because only 14,320 had registered as positive as of 2011, only about 11 percent of the people in need of antiretroviral treatment (ART) were receiving the lifesaving medicine.
With the goal of providing access to ART to all HIV-positive Nepalese people, leading global AIDS organization AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) partnered with the Ministry of Health and Population and the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control to establish an ART facility in the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku. The site for the ART Center of Excellence was dedicated in November 2008, and was fully operational by July 2009.
AHF expanded their Nepalese presence in February 2011 when it began supporting the Bharatpur ART Center in Chitwan, where 371 of 656 clients are currently receiving ART. In addition to the lifesaving treatment being provided at the ART center, AHF and its Nepalese partners also lead advocacy efforts to reduce the stigma around HIV, and also encourage prevention. Furthermore, AHF also has a strong involvement with events in the region where people can access testing and prevention education.
“In addition to the lifesaving treatment being provided at the ART center, AHF and its Nepalese partners also lead advocacy efforts to reduce the stigma around HIV, and also encourage prevention.”
An example of such successful outreach occurred when AHF co-sponsored the 2010 Cricket For AIDS event, where more than 42,000 condoms and 3,400 informational pamphlets were distributed. Most importantly, 289 people were tested for HIV at the event. Then, in December 2011, the even more successful “Test & Treat” event took place in Chitwan, when AHF Nepal partnered with local NGOs and over 25 healthcare providers including Bharatpur Hospital to mobilize more than 100 volunteers who went door-to-door in the community and encouraged people to get the HIV tests being provided by AHF. As a result, a total of 2,197 people (438 men and 1,759 women) were tested, of which eight men and six women were found to be HIV-reactive and were linked to the ART Center. Four of those patients are currently on receiving ART. In addition to the successful testing campaign, 40,000 condoms were distributed through the event.
Another important result of the “Test & Treat” campaign is that more and more Nepalese HIV-positive patients — like this brave client from the Bharatpur ART Center — who previously kept their status and fight against the disease a secret are publicly sharing their stories in order to defeat HIV stigma and give others in their community the courage to get tested and, if needed, receive the lifesaving antiretroviral treatment AHF is supporting in Nepal. AHF Nepal hopes for a similar response to another testing event being held in Chitwan to mark 2012 World AIDS Day on December 1.
“These photos side-by-side tell a great story,” AHF President Michael Weinstein said of the Kathmandu patient’s remarkable health improvement due to ART. “Hopefully as we continue to increase access to better testing services in the region, we will find more HIV-positive people earlier on in the disease progression and ensure that they get on ARVs before becoming as ill as this woman was.”