World AIDS Day: Punjab to extend ration card benefits to single mothers, people with HIV
Dr Balbir Singh underscored the theme of World AIDS Day, “Let the communities lead,” emphasising the crucial role that society plays in the battle against AIDS.The minister highlighted that the country has around 24.67 lakh HIV-affected individuals, with Punjab contributing 62,044 patients.
Health and family welfare minister Dr Balbir Singh while commemorating a World AIDS Day function at a state-level event in Ludhiana on Friday announced that the state government is poised to expand the coverage of ration card benefits by incorporating additional social factors like single mothers and individuals afflicted with HIV for eligibility.
Speaking to the event, Dr Balbir Singh underscored the theme of World AIDS Day, “Let the communities lead,” emphasising the crucial role that society plays in the battle against AIDS. He stated, “To ensure the comprehensive well-being of HIV patients, single mothers, and other socially underprivileged citizens, the state government intends to broaden the reach of the free ration scheme. This proposition will soon encompass the distribution of free ration to HIV/AIDS patients.”
The minister highlighted that the country has around 24.67 lakh HIV-affected individuals, with Punjab contributing 62,044 patients. The Punjab government operates 115 integrated counseling and testing centres (ICTC) at district hospitals and medical colleges, offering free testing facilities.
The minister reassured the public that a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS should not lead to panic, as patients can lead a long life with medication available free of cost at 25 antiretroviral therapy (ART) centres in the state.
The health minister mentioned the establishment of 41 Opioid Agonist Treatment Centres (OOATS) for youth de-addiction programmes, 31 centres for treating occult diseases, and 173 blood centres screening donated blood for diseases before transfusion. Additionally, 66 target intervention centres are operational to prevent the spread of HIV among high-risk populations.
The HIV/AIDS cases in Ludhiana are consistently increasing each year. From April 1 to October 30 in the fiscal year 2023, Ludhiana has reported 1,443 cases, with 1,097 of them involving intravenous drug users. In the preceding fiscal year (2022-2023), there were 1,937 cases, with 1,333 related to intravenous drug use. The numbers for the fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2020-2021 were 1,320 (807 intravenous drug users) and 926 (488 intravenous drug users), respectively.
Explaining the reasons behind this upward trend, Dr Harinder Sood, Senior Medical Officer at the ARTC, District Civil Hospital, Ludhiana, attributed the surge to the proportional increase in Ludhiana’s population. He emphasised that controlling infections is possible through strict monitoring of drug addicts, particularly those who may be sharing needles. Additionally, raising awareness about the importance of regular health check-ups to monitor HIV status and promoting protected sex is crucial. HIV often remains asymptomatic for years until it progresses to AIDS.
Commenting on the unreleased National Health Mission (NHM) funds by the Union government, Dr Balbir Singh remarked, “This is akin to stepmotherly treatment towards Punjab. While the state government has shielded its services from the impact, we still require funds to provide our taxpayers with state-of-the-art health facilities. After all, it is the taxpayers’ money intended for their welfare.”
In response to the arrest of senior medical officer (SMO) Poonam Goel and Dr Gaurav Jain, both stationed at the community health centre in Sahnewal, for allegedly accepting a bribe of ₹15,000 from a chemist by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau (VB) on November 3, the health minister stated, “What she did is a “career suicidal” step. Her promotion was due in 10 days, and now, if she gets convicted, she stands to lose everything. Therefore, I appeal to all doctors to fulfil their duties with the utmost honesty and professionalism.”
Addressing the hesitancy of MD doctors to join government services, the health minister mentioned, “We are actively recruiting doctors to ensure the smooth functioning of civil hospitals. To encourage this, I assure doctors that they will receive all benefits and regular promotions in their service.”