Kohima | September 21
Health Activists groups in Nagaland has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gauhati High Court, Kohima Bench for free treatment and prevention of Hepatitis-C Virus (HCV), inclusion of HCV in the IEC program, and others related to HCV infection in all the public health institutions in Nagaland.
The groups include Access to Rights and Knowledge Foundation (ARK), Nagaland Users’ Network (NUN), Hepatitis Coalition of Nagaland (HepCON), Network of Naga People Living with HIV & AIDS (NNP+) with the case taken up by the Human Rights Law Network, Nagaland Chapter.
With millions of HCV cases across the world today, HCV is a global and national concern with treatments being easily available for free or at subsidized rates across the country and in neighbouring States like Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. However in Nagaland, HCV treatment and testing facilities are still not accessible or available for the general population. “We know that the infection is already here in our state, with new infections spreading in our state and people continue to die. It is a curable infectious disease and the treatment is available but not accessible because the government is not making it available,” said Ketho Angami, President, ARK Foundation during a press briefing held on September 21 at the HRLN office, Kohima.
The need to file the PIL arose, according to the petitioners, because despite several interventions, appeals and advocacy over the last 10 years, the State government has not made any initiative in making the treatment accessible to the people. Despite the increase of the HCV cases in Nagaland in recent years, very few surveys and documentations have been made. The petitioners mentioned that while IDUs, sex workers and people with HIV&AIDS are at greater risk of HCV, the infection among the general population also cannot be undermined.
A study of Nagaland Hospital Authority, Kohima’s most recent seven-year report, revealed that HCV prevalence in the general population stood at 1.8%. In yet another study conducted by NHAK in joint partnership with MSD (Merck Sharp and Dohme) Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd in the year 2012-2013 (September 2012 to June 2013) reported of 728 tested from the general OPD patients, where 50 patients were tested antibody reactive projecting a percentage of 6.8%.
“With an earnest effort to tackle this public health crisis, the petitioners have time and again sought for intervention from the respondents for treatment facilities and services, however, the apathy of the respondents stands reflected on the fact that people in Nagaland continue to die of HCV due to lack of accessible free treatment facilities and services in any of the public health institutes, thereby violating their fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the constitution of India,” stated Kezhosano Kikhi, Advocate for the petitioners.
According to the petitioners, the antibody test for HCV is available in very few private labs in Nagaland. This test is followed by the Genotype test. The facility for genotype testing is not available in Nagaland, said the petitioners, and the test has to be sent outside Nagaland. There is also allegation that the treatment availability is further being monopolised by Pharmaceutical companies, few Doctors and hospitals in Nagaland. “The pharma company are coming and quoting their own rates. There is a nexus within the pharma companies, doctors and hospitals,” stated the petitioners mentioning that some patients are paying as high as Rs.60, 000 to Rs. 20,000 for the HCV treatment.
It may also be mentioned that the drug for the treatment is still not immediately accessible in pharmacies in Nagaland where orders have to be placed in advance. With poor patients being exploited, the petitioners negotiated with a few pharma companies where the drug was made available for Rs.5000.
The petitioners also reminded a petition filed in 2008 by the Positive People Foundation in the Gauhati High court, Kohima bench on the same issue of HCV treatment. The court and passed an order on August 5, 2011 directing the state respondents to make available the funds for the treatment of HCV and inclusion of it in its IEC program. “This concerns everyone. It is of public health interest,” remarked the petitioners, adding that by denying accessibility of treatment, the State government is denying its citizens the right to live.