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With no cure in sight for the deadly HIV infection, finding out that you are HIV positive, is more like a death sentence. What are the choices one has before them after contracting HIV? Either you live in totally antispetic environment or have enough money, Rs. 25,000/- to be precise to spend on the Anti–Retro Viral Therapy that helps control the virus.

This obviously is impossible for most HIV positive people. And while there are enough quacks in the country who are making hay while the HIV sun shines, it is heartening to know that attempts are being made to find out ways and means to deal with this deadly infection. At the Inlaks and Budhrani hospital, the Naturopathy department offers an ayurvedic treatment for AIDS.

Dr. M.D. Shastri, who has a post graduate degree in ayurveda talks about how alternative systems of medicine are helping 500 HIV patients in Pune. Says he “At our hospital, not everybody can afford the ARV therapy. We were on the lookout for another system and decided to use ayurvedic principles to see if these can work. The first patient came to us six years ago and their number is growing”.

To help people cope with HIV and even a full blown AIDS, ayurvedic principles depend upon the body’s own immune system. But obviously it is under attack from the virus, so how does ayurveda work? Says Shastri “As yet I cannot say that this helps cure a patient, but yes it definitely improves their quality of life. I have had patients who have had multiple infections as a result of AIDS. They have come here with diarrhea, fever, weight loss and T.B. all at once”.

“For them we do what our science prescribes. We have certain medicines that are use din a fixed combination that modulate the immune system. The rest are supportive medicines. For example Ayurveda believes that fever is the result of the “Gastric fire” and to treat this one has to deal with the digestive system. But in cases where the patient has multiple infections particularly T.B. we use allopathic drugs. It is not as if ayurveda cannot treat a T.B. infection, but in a person with multiple infections we don’t like to take chances. Along with this we continue the immune modulator medications and patients do manage to live fairly good lives”.

In the past six years about 10 percent of such patients have died. Of these HIV positives, five percent developed AIDS and 25 percent are on the verge of becoming AIDS patients. To find out their HIV positive status, the hospital depends on tests like CD–4 and CD–8 counts that detects the viral load. Unfortunately most of the patients who avail of this treatment are not in a position to afford the CD–4 and CD–8 tests as the cost is prohibitive. In fact this is the major deterrent to finding out whether this system is working well or not.

Says Shastri, “I would not say that our experiment is a success because according to ayurveda, the definition of health is physical and mental fitness and I would not say that these patients are healthy. But yes they are definitely coping with the infections that they are afflicted with”.

Much like the ART, except that it costs a mere Rs 300 a month. So in a way, ayurveda is helping poor HIV patients deal with their infections. And for some that’s all they need.