114 People found HIV positive under AIDS intervention programmes
• Total of 114 people from high risk groups were found to be HIV positive in the last one year
• The groups include sex workers, injecting drug users (IDUs), men having sex with men (MSM), transgender people, migrant workers and truckers
• The screening was conducted by NGOs empanelled with ASACS
• These groups are considered to be highly vulnerable to AIDS
• Under the interventions, 18,843 people from various groups were screened for HIV in Assam
• Interventions were also conducted at jails and women’s correctional homes
Under various interventions conducted by the Assam State AIDS Control Society (ASACS), a total of 114 people belonging to the high-risk groups have been found to be HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) positive.
This data was collected for the period between March 2017 and April 2018. According to officials, the ASACS had conducted targeted interventions with the help of empanelled NGOs for sex workers, injecting drug users (IDUs), men having sex with men (MSM), transgender people, migrant workers and truckers. These groups are highly vulnerable to AIDS.
Under the interventions, 18,843 people in total from various groups were screened for HIV across the state. Those found positive will be given antiretroviral therapy (ART) to keep the virus in suppression and they will also be provided counselling about different aspects of the disease including ways to combat AIDS.
Dipshikha Talukdar Haloi, assistant director of targeted intervention at ASACS informed G Plus that there are 50 targeted intervention programmes currently operational in Assam.
“Different NGOs have been entrusted with various responsibilities including HIV screening, management of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), condom promotion, referral services, awareness and linkages to various schemes,” she added.
As per the state figures, there are currently 5,500 HIV positive people living in Guwahati and 13,368 people living with AIDS in the state, out of which 9,851 are enrolled under ART and 4,698 are alive under ART.
Further, the biggest challenge faced by the intervention implementing agencies is increasing the reach of the programme and tackling a lack of information about the disease. Officials say that a number of high-risk groups remain underground. These include sex workers, IDUs and MSM transmission.
These groups are at the highest risk of getting infected with the disease but have the lowest reach in terms of awareness programmes. Moreover, the state is surrounded by Manipur and Mizoram which are states with high HIV prevalence. Migrants or other people entering Assam and Guwahati via these states also carry a high risk of HIV transmission.
According to a NACO report, Manipur has the highest estimated HIV prevalence at 1.15% followed by Mizoram (0.80%), Nagaland (0.78%) and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (0.66%).
New programmes by ASACS this year
The ASACS began HIV screening camps in jails at Cachar, Jorhat and Nagaon this year.
ASACS has recently launched targeted intervention programme for prison inmates in order to combat the disease. According to experts, prisons remain a high-risk zone for transmission of AIDS.
In January this year, free medicines and counselling for HIV positive inmates was started as a pilot project in the Guwahati Central Jail. This was supported by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and was funded by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of Project Sunrise.
Officials informed that till February 2018, in Guwahati Central Jail, HIV screening was done for 772 inmates out of a total of 1,169 inmates. Out of these, six were detected to be HIV positive.
Further, 75 inmates were screened in Jorhat Central Jail out of 448 inmates and no HIV positive cases were found. Similarly, with 9 inmates, the Silchar Central Jail recorded the maximum number of HIV positive inmates among all jails screened. A total of 76 inmates were tested here.
The programme will now be replicated in all six central jails of the state. “Prisons have many injecting drug users which increases their chance of HIV transmission manifold. More than 50 IDUs were found in Guwahati Central Jail. Our main aim is sensitisation of inmates as well as prison officials,” said an ASACS official.
He added that they send mobile Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) van, provided by NACO to the jail premises for testing of inmates.
Apart from carrying out intervention programmes in jails, screening of inmates was also conducted by ASACS and NGOs at women’s correctional homes.
Assam became the first state in the country to begin intervention programmes for women living in correctional homes a few months ago.
Experts say that there is a continuous influx of women in the correctional homes which house inmates who are destitute, sex workers, those who have been abandoned by their families or who have been apprehended for their misdemeanours.
Under the programme, one HIV positive case was found at the correctional home for women in Guwahati. Here, 122 inmates were tested out of a total of 123 women.
Health authorities state that Assam has a low HIV prevalence at 0.06% as compared to the country average of 0.26%, but this is a grave matter and all possible measures should be taken to further mitigate it.