HIV test price cut to half

HIV testINDIA, Chandigarh -- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has positive news for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). In a path-breaking move that seeks to encourage early testing of HIV/AIDS in India and reduction in mortality, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has significantly reduced the cost involved in getting the CD-4 count test.

Until now, each test would cost Rs 500, but not any longer. NACO has notified that the cost of the test will henceforth be half of what it used to be. PLHWAs, who have not yet enrolled for the anti-retroviral therapy (ART), will now be required to pay only Rs 250 for the test.

Further, this test will now be free of cost for all HIV-infected children and HIV positive patients living below the poverty line (BPL). Till October 26 this year — when NACO made the notification — the test was being offered free of cost only to patients already on ART. This test requires to be repeated after every six months.

NACO’s notification is significant as it will motivate people to go in for CD-4 count test early and for early treatment of HIV.

The CD-4 count test is the only sure shot way of determining the level of immunity in the infected person’s body. It assesses the extent of damage the virus has caused and detects opportunistic infections like TB in the PLHWA’s body.

If an infected person’s CD-4 count is below 200, he is immediately put on ART to slow down the progression from HIV to AIDS. Unfortunately, many PLHWAs get their test done only as the last option either because they are not aware of its importance or because they want to avoid the cost as long as possible.

The results can be disastrous as by the time HIV positive person gets to know his actual health status, the person has reached a critical state where mortality is almost certain.

Very often, such persons report to hospitals with CD-4 counts as lethally low as 10 or even 20. They naturally die of opportunistic infections which they have acquired as part of HIV.

But all that is set to change now. Speaking to The Tribune today, Dr B.B. Rewari from NACO said, “We had been deliberating on this issue for long. The idea of subsidising the test is to encourage HIV positive persons to take it so that they can prepare for the future and plan their treatment.” PLHWAs, however, want the cost to be totally waived off. While NACO does not promise total exemption yet, it does not rule out chances of a complete waiver in the future. Dr Rewari said NACO would be working towards reducing the cost as much as possible.

He added that health being a state subject, the respective state governments should also try and take initiatives to help HIV positive people by warding off the costs involved in medical examination.

West Bengal has made all medical investigations for PLHWAs free. NACO, for its part, is extending as much help as possible to subsidise HIV treatment and testing. Recently, it worked on reducing the cost of ART kits, which are now more affordable than earlier. No wonder NACO has an ART stock to treat 85,000 PLHWAs in India, although currently only 43,000 are on treatment.