Feature story

India to provide HIV treatment to all who need it

01 May 2017

Veena has been living with HIV for more than 15 years. The community educator, who lives in Bangalore, India, has been on HIV treatment for more than a decade and says antiretroviral medicine has given her back her health and happiness.

“This medicine is very good. I am very happy,” said Veena. “My life has changed. I am learning three languages and working.”

There are 2.1 million people living with HIV in India, which has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world. On 28 April, during an event in New Delhi, Jagat Prakash Nadda, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, announced a new test-and-treat policy that commits to providing access to HIV treatment for everyone living with HIV in the country. Prior to the change in policy, people living with HIV could only access antiretroviral medicine for free if their CD4 cells had decreased to less than 500 cells/mm3.

Mr Nadda also said that the ministry’s 90–90–90 strategy will identify 90% of people living with HIV, place 90% of people identified as living with HIV on treatment and ensure that 90% of people on treatment have sustained viral load suppression. “This strategy will offer us an opportunity to work towards our commitment made during the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.”

People living with HIV in India often access treatment late. This was the case for Veena when she began taking medicine.

“I had lost a lot of weight and I had a high fever. I was tired and I couldn’t work,” said Veena. Initially she did not respond well to treatment, but slowly her weight started to increase and her immune system became better.


UNAIDS has called on all countries to provide HIV treatment to anyone who tests positive for HIV, because treatment keeps a person living with HIV healthy and has the double benefit of stopping the transmission of the virus to other people.

“The Government of India is showing bold leadership and commitment to people living with HIV,” said Steve Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. “This new policy will bring life-saving treatment within reach of more than one million people living with HIV. It will keep individuals, families and communities healthy and productive and ensure that India ends its AIDS epidemic by 2030.”

To rapidly scale-up treatment, India will rely on its network of facilities spread across the country providing HIV services. Rolling out the new policy will also entail strengthening the procurement and supply chain management system as well as sustained community participation.

According to the country’s national AIDS programme, annual AIDS-related deaths declined by 54% between 2007 and 2015, while new HIV infections dropped by 32%. As more people living with HIV follow Veena onto treatment, the double benefits of antiretroviral medicines are expected to lead to a further decline in deaths and new HIV infections.

Veena has managed what she never thought possible: watch her daughter grow into a young adult.

“My life has a future. I don’t have a proper education, but my daughter has completed her degree. She is working. She is an empowered woman,” said Veena.

UNAIDS is working with countries to ensure that 30 million people living with HIV have access to HIV treatment by 2020.