Dr. Samiran Panda, a specialist in tropical medicine who has played a key role in supporting programs against AIDS, will take over on Tuesday from the director of the National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) based in Pune. In an interview with The Indian Express, Dr. Panda said that his immediate focus would be HIV prevention programs among high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users (IDU) and men who have sex with men (MSM). .
Panda, who was previously the deputy director of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (Calcutta), has been named full-time director at NARI. He will be in charge of Dr. R R Gangakhedkar, who was the director in charge of NARI during the last three years.
As a scientist of the Indian Council of Medical Research during the 1990s, Dr. Panda was a key member of the team, documenting the HIV / AIDS epidemic among injecting drug users in the northeastern states, with special focus on Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. His work had shown convincing evidence about the progression of the HIV epidemic from IDUs to their wives, and the drug and sex interface that operates in women drug users and injecting drug users in Manipur.
Panda has also been associated with projects related to Hepatitis C infection. “I have been associated with projects related to hepatitis C in Chennai … at NARI, we will encourage scientists to get involved in similar efforts,” said Panda.
On the many challenges in the fight against HIV and AIDS, he said that the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease were the main causes of concern. “Today, approximately 1.14 lakh children in the country are living with HIV and a similar number of people have been affected by the disease … since they may have lost one or both parents of this disease.” The stigma persists as it has its origin in guilt and shame, “said Panda.
He added that while administering tablets to treat HIV was essential, prevention, active care and support were also important. “We can then encourage highly active retroviral prevention, especially between discordant couples (where one of the spouses has HIV infection and others do not), transgender people and men who have sex with men,” said Panda.