For the first time, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has outsourced its voluntary testing and counselling centres to an international organisation. The US-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has signed a memorandum of understanding with NACO to scale up the government's AIDS treatment programme in Assam.
AHF president Michael Weinstein said, "According to UNAIDS, India now has the highest number of HIV-positive people worldwide-nearly 5.7 million-living with the disease. However, with a population of over 1.1 billion, India's HIV prevalence is still relatively low. This new partnership will attempt to break the chain of new infections by ushering more HIV positive individuals and those already living with AIDS into care and treatment."
"In Assam, the AHF will help NACO expand and scale up AIDS treatment and care, including providing anti-retroviral treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS," said Dr Chinkholal Thangsing, Asia-Pacific bureau chief of the AHF.
According to the MoU, the AHF will take over the management of the voluntary testing and counselling centres in Guwahati and Dibrugarh and set up a new centre in Silchar within six months. "Each centre will be manned by a minimum of seven people, including two doctors and a counsellor. The AHF will not only train them and pay their salaries but will also provide them with CD-4 count machines," Thangsing added.
In a first, the AHF plans to involve Assam's Network of Positive people (ANP+) to encourage more people to get treated.
"ANP+ has 250 members and they will help by referring new cases to the AHF and following up on those who stop treatment. There is no shortage of free medicines in the government centers and hospitals, but people stay away for fear of stigma and discrimination. Unfortunately, these still exist in some places, including in clinics and hospitals," Jahnabi Goswami, president of ANP+, told HT from Guwahati
NACO officials say involving the NGO sector will bring more people within the fold. "We can treat only those who come seeking treatment. Since stigma and ignorance keeps many people away, we need NGOs to play an activist role and raise awareness and encourage people to come to these centres and get tested and treated," a NACO official said.
Other international organisations partnering with NACO include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation.