5,500 HIV positive people living in Guwahati
• State takes proactive step towards controlling AIDS in Assam and Guwahati
• ASACS signs MoUs with social welfare department and prison headquarters
• Intervention programmes to be brought in women’s correctional homes and 6 central prisons
• Officials focus on early detection and sensitisation, counselling
• Lack of awareness and reaching high-risk groups still remains a major challenge
There are as many as 5,500 HIV positive people living in Guwahati and 13,368 HIV positive people in the state, according to the Assam State AIDS Control Society (ASACS). Although Guwahati and Assam have low prevalence of HIV positive cases as compared to other states, authorities feel that the disease requires continuous efforts to combat it.
According to officials, Guwahati and Assam still lack adequate awareness about the disease. “We are taking up various multi-nodal infection control (IC) activities like seminars, advocacy and sensitisation of various departments because Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is not a stand-alone issue of the health department. We need police, social welfare department and other citizens to play a facilitating role and need to take up these activities in a concerted manner,” said ASACS project director, Varnali Deka.
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%).
State begins HIV intervention programmes in central jails
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.
This 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 many aim is sensitisation of inmates as well as prison officials,” said assistant director of targeted intervention at ASACS, Dipshikha Talukdar Haloi.
She added that they send mobile Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) van, provided by NACO, to the jail premises for testing of inmates.
“We will now provide Facility Integrated ICTC services (FICTC) in the prisons. Under this, AIDS testing kits will be provided to all the prison hospitals so that care, support and treatment can be provided to inmates inside jail premises,” said Haloi.
Inspector General (IG) of Prisons, Ranjan Sharma said, “This is definitely a good initiative which was started as a pilot project in Guwahati Central Jail, because the jail inmates are the most vulnerable sections of society.”
Assam first state to begin AIDS intervention in women’s correctional homes
Assam recently became the first state in the country to begin intervention programmes for women living in correctional homes. Officials said that under this, they would conduct HIV screening of the population. 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.
ASACS recently signed two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the state social welfare department and the prisons headquarters, for carrying out HIV interventions in women’s correctional homes and prisons respectively.
According to officials, 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.
“Assam has a low HIV prevalence at 0.06% as compared to the country average of 0.26%, but nevertheless this is a grave matter and we have to ensure that we take all possible measures to further mitigate it,” said Deka.
Officials informed that they are stressing on early detection, as the inmates are often engaged in certain activities outside the state which get them infected with HIV. After detection, ART is provided to those found HIV positive so that the quality of health is maintained.
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.
The AIDS control society has planned to gradually roll out these intervention programmes to other sectors as well. Till now, it has screened around 32 lakh people for AIDS. Additionally, they have community-based organisations and NGOs under them, which work in high-risk groups, which mean people who are at a higher risk of getting infected with HIV. These include sex workers, migrants, men having sex with men (MSM) and injecting drug users (IDU).
• HIV positive people in Guwahati: 5,500
• HIV positive people living in Assam: 13,368 out of which 9,851 are enrolled under ART and 4,698 are alive under ART
• Assam has low HIV prevalence at 0.06%
• Country average of HIV prevalence: 0.26%,
• Manipur has the highest estimated HIV prevalence at 1.15%
• It is followed by Mizoram (0.80%), Nagaland (0.78%) and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (0.66%).