The virus is going places in high-risk Northeast, and for a change the dread factor is missing.
If Assam has initiated a process to set up an orphanage for 16 children orphaned by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) ahead of World AIDS Day, predominantly Christian Nagaland has shed inhibitions to include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS-related topics in church-run theological colleges.
“On the brighter side, the percentage of HIV prevalence in ante-natal cases (ANCs) and high-risk groups (HRGs) has come down in Assam, as has the degree of stigmatisation owing to better surveillance, target intervention and awareness,” said Assam Health Commissioner VS Bhaskar. “But AIDS has in the past few years rendered quite a few children orphans.”
The Assam Network of Positive People has been given the responsibility to draw up the project. For the time being, it is taking care of these orphans.
Since the first AIDS case was detected in September 1990, Assam recorded 991 full-blown cases till November 1 this year. The number of HIV positive cases during this period increased to 3835, of which 151 are children. Though officials are yet to quantify the number of AIDS orphans, not all carry the virus.
“The adult prevalence rate in Assam is 0.03 per cent, but though we are a low prevalence state, we are highly vulnerable because of our proximity to high prevalence states (Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram), the drug supplying Golden Triangle (comprising Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) and huge movement of migrants,” said Bhaskar.
Health officials are also worried by the trend of relief camp inmates being lured into flesh trade owing to economic compulsions. There are at least 20 relief camps housing over 2.5 lakh people in ethnic violence affected districts of Assam.
Sexual transmission is the main cause of AIDS prevalence in Assam, accounting for 84.76 per cent or 840 of the 991 cases, 743 being males. Intravenous drug users account for 4.04 per cent, which in the case of Nagaland was as high as 39 per cent in 1994.
“Given the seriousness of the issue, we decided to shed our conservative tag and have lessons on HIV/AIDS across 40 theological colleges in Nagaland. We have accordingly trained 3,143 local church leaders,” said Hukashe Zhimomi, director, Nagaland Development Outreach under Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC).
According to Nagaland State AIDS Control Society, 6,510 people have been detected as HIV positive in the state till date though NACO puts the estimate at 19,390 people living with HIV/AIDS. Either way, the figure is alarming for a state with only 1,990,036 people (2001 census).
The HIV prevalence rate of 17.9 per cent among IDUs – local studies claim 32 per cent – in Manipur, a state with 2.4 million people, is more frightening. HIV, though, is no longer confined to IDUs.
Manipur’s battle against the virus has been greatly hampered by militant interference. Various outlawed outfits have targeted officials engaged in AIDS control for a share of the funds, often forcing abandonment of programmes.