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Activist Groups' Plea to Indian Prime Minister: 'Rollout Second-Line AIDS Treatment!'

NACO Centers Report 100,000 Patients on First-line ART; Advocates Press for Second-line Access

NEW DELHI, India, Nov. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being issued by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF):

As part of its ongoing global campaign to improve access to lifesaving AIDS treatments worldwide, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which operates free AIDS treatment clinics in India as AHF/India Cares, and a broad-based coalition of other international and Indian civil society partners and HIV/AIDS organizations including Indian Medical Parliamentarians Forum (IMPF), World Vision, Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), Amnesty International, Positive Lives Foundation - Goa (PLF), Manipur Network of Positive People, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), Naz Foundation International - India, as well as other groups have joined together in a public appeal to the Honorable Dr. Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister, urging him to intercede and help facilitate the rollout of lifesaving second-line antiretroviral AIDS treatments in India. The appeal was delivered in a formal letter of request sent directly to the Prime Minister in New Delhi this week; the appeal will also be shared with Indian civil society in a print advertisement scheduled to run in major Indian newspapers including The Hindu (New Delhi) and the Financial Express (Mumbai), appearing in the Thursday November 15, 2007 editions of the newspapers.

The coalition also hosted a press conference to unveil the newspaper advertisement calling for second-line AIDS treatment on Tuesday, November 13 at The Claridges Hotel, New Delhi. The newspaper advertisement, designed in the style of a letter and headlined, "An Open Appeal to Dr. Manmohan Singh" includes the following points and pleas from the group's letter to the Prime Minister:

-- "This is an open appeal to your good office to address the urgent need to rollout second-line anti-retroviral drugs in India. We, the undersigned members of civil society groups take this opportunity to bring to your kind attention the crisis faced by people living with HIVAIDS (PLHA) and request you for a time bound action to save valuable lives."

-- "We request your leadership to safeguard the interest and protect the constitutional right to life of the people living with HIVAIDS."

-- "National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) has provided free first-line anti-retroviral drugs in a number of sites to people who are in need and who otherwise could not have accessed anti-retroviral medicines. However, there is an urgent need for expanded treatment services including second-line anti-retroviral drugs and a vibrant public health action plan."

-- "We appeal to you for your immediate intervention and come to the rescue of thousands of HIVAIDS infected children, women and men who are facing imminent death due to unavailability of the life saving second-line drugs."

As AIDS treatment access has increased in India, Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, the need for access to more effective -- and currently more costly -- second-line AIDS drug therapies has increased dramatically. And as an increasing number of patients are developing resistance to their initial AIDS drug regimens, the need to switch to more clinically appropriate treatment regimens has become a critical priority. India's media recently reported that NACO-provided first-line treatment is failing up to 50% of HIV/AIDS patients in Delhi, and the number in need of second-line treatment is increasing daily, making access to second-line treatment a necessity, not a luxury. Second-line therapies primarily include the class of drugs known as protease inhibitors. And in India, there is also a compelling need for newer, more effective, once-a-day first-line drugs that result in better adherence and less toxicity among patients.

India's National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) recently announced that it has reached a crucial treatment benchmark: NACO is providing first-line ART to slightly more than 100,000 people living with HIV/AIDS at NACO-supported ART centers throughout the country. NACO officials previously announced that 100,000 patients on first-line treatment would serve as a benchmark and trigger NACO to begin the rollout of second-line treatment in India. However, for those patients needing second-line AIDS treatment, NACO does not currently provide any access to such potentially lifesaving AIDS treatments. More than 2.5 million people are currently estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in India today.

"We respectfully request that our Honorable Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, intercede on behalf of thousands of Indians who are now in desperate need of access to lifesaving second-line AIDS treatments," said Chinkholal Thangsing, M.D., Asia Pacific Bureau Chief for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and who is based in New Delhi. "I am pleased that AHF/India Cares has recently been able to provide some patients with access to much-needed second-line treatment; but extremely saddened that the need in India is so much greater than we, or any one NGO care provider, could possibly meet without the intervention from highest order -- the Prime Minister's office to help make these drugs available."

Last week, AHF/India Cares, which operates free AIDS treatment clinics in India (in Mysore, New Delhi and in Guwahati, Assam in collaboration with NACO) that provide treatment, care and support services to over 5,000 Indian clients, announced that it is now providing lifesaving second-line antiretroviral treatment (ART) free to 30 AIDS activists and clients whose initial, or first-line, AIDS drug regimens have failed them.

"We firmly believe that access to medical care and lifesaving AIDS treatment is a basic human right, not a privilege, and as such, are pleading the Honorable Prime Minister to take action to provide second-line antiretroviral treatments throughout India," said Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President in a statement from Los Angeles.

"I started my first-line ARV medicines in 2001, but after five years, first-line drugs were not working and I was admitted in hospital for a long stay -- four months," said Kumar, a Delhi resident who has known he was HIV positive for seven years, and whose CD4 count was zero when he first tested. "According to the doctors, I needed to take second-line treatment to save my life. I came to know about AHF from NACO and at AHF they started me on second-line drugs, within one month I was better already. I would like to give a message to our government that they should pay some attention and increase their involvement in getting second-line treatment to those who need it."

"Without access to second-line therapies, I would not be alive today," said Francisco Xavier De Melo, President of Love Life Society-Consortium of People with HIVAIDS. "I am very lucky, as very few people in India have access to second-line therapy. It is too expensive -- but it is a matter of life and death for many of us. Positive people throughout India look urgently to our government leaders to help start delivery of such lifesaving second-line treatments."

"AIDS Healthcare Foundation stands in solidarity with the advocates and people of India in urging the government to launch the provision of second-line therapies immediately," said Terri Ford, AHF Director of Global Advocacy. "In our own clinic here in New Delhi, we are trying to save the lives of activists and clients in urgent need of these medications so that they can remain healthy and continue their courageous fight for treatment for all. We know that Treatment Saves Lives and the time is now."

About AHF

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the US' largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare, research, prevention and education provider. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 61,000 individuals in 19 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia. Additional information is available at

About AHF/India Cares

AHF/India Cares centers provide testing, psycho-social support services and anti-retroviral treatment including both pediatric and second-line treatment. The facilities provide comprehensive HIVAIDS care and treatment and holistic services, and serve as one-stop shops for people living with HIVAIDS (PLHAs).

In the Asia/Pacific region, AIDS Healthcare Foundation currently provides free anti-retroviral treatment services to people in need through its clinics in India, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia and China.

SOURCE AIDS Healthcare Foundation
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