While rape victims can be prevented from contracting an HIV infection with a 'post-exposure prophylaxis' (PEP) treatment given within eight hours of the sexual assault, the treatment is neither mandated nor provided in India due to lack of awareness, AIDS Society of India (ASI) President Dr Ishwar Gilada told PTI.
"In cases of rape, along with legal aid a treatment of post-exposure prophylaxis should be immediately given to sexual assault victims. This will cut down the chances of infection to 100%," Gilada said.
A proactive three-day movement for creating public awareness for the use of PEP to prevent the spread of HIV infection in victims of sexual assault started in Mumbai from Saturday, where HIV clinicians from several medical faculties deliberated on how to put the evidences into a policy and take swift action.
"In a country like India, we have to work hard to put an end to sexual assault incidents. But warding off the fear of HIV infection is very easy, if all are made aware of the treatment," he said. The last few years have witnessed an alarming rise in rape cases in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, 36,735 rape cases were reported in the country in 2014.
"In cases of rape, along with providing immediate trauma care, precaution should also be taken to ensure that the victim does not contract sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV," he said.
"In order to alleviate the danger of HIV infection, PEP should be administered to the victims. This is a short term, inexpensive and an anti-retroviral treatment (ART) which can prove effective if started within eight hours of the rape incident," Gilada said.
The initiative to administer this treatment should be taken by the relatives of the victim and also the law enforcement agencies which usually focus mainly on the crime angle, he suggested. ASI is a professional non-profit organisation of medical doctors and researchers in HIV/AIDS aiming to promote and disseminate clinically-oriented medical teaching and coordinated medical management of HIV disease.
National AIDS Research Institute's (NARI) Director In-charge and ASI's annual national conference ASICON 2015 Co-Chairman, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar said the latest WHO guidelines on HIV make available two key recommendations that were developed during the revision process this year, one of them being administration of PEP.
"Daily use of oral post-exposure prophylaxis is recommended as a prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV infection as part of combination prevention approaches," Gangakhedkar said.
"In any case of sexual assault or an accidental exposure to HIV infection, like condom rupture between two partners, this treatment would help reduce the risk by 100%. More and more awareness would help to control this infection in India," he said.
In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued consolidated guidelines on the 'Use of anti-retroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection: Recommendations for a public health approach'.