The detection of over 200 AIDS cases over a six-month period in Assam has made 29 divergent organisations form an alliance against the dreaded virus. The detection by February translates into a steep 56 per cent rise in AIDS cases over the figure till August 31 last year.
Figures provided by Assam Network of Positive People (ANP+) and AIDS Prevention Society (APS) on Monday say there were 578 AIDS patients in Assam as on February 28 compared to 372 till August last year. On the other hand, Manipur recorded a little over 33 per cent rise in the number of AIDS cases with 3,922 victims by February this year, 976 more than in August last year.
The latest figures for the other states in the Northeast, one of India's high-risk zones, were not available. But the scenario in Nagaland was quite grim with 736 AIDS cases in August last year. Mizoram reported 106 cases, Arunachal Pradesh 13, Meghalaya 10, Sikkim eight and Tripura five.
According to SI Ahmed, a doctor who heads APS, lack of access to anti-retroviral treatment and tendency of some people to come out of the closet were factors in the detection of more AIDS cases in Assam and Manipur. Many, though, were HIV+ cases who developed symptoms of AIDS.
"HIV/AIDS has reached epidemic proportions in the northeast as well as the rest of the country and the world beyond, so the virus cannot be combated in isolation. This is why we formed the Assam People's Alliance to Combat HIV and AIDS (APACHA)," said Ahmed.
APACHA, modelled on a Bangkok-based Asia-Pacific alliance, has 29 constituents including women's rights organisations, NGOs, church bodies, social organisations and trade unions besides PLWHA or people living wih HIV/AIDS.
"The need for a common platform is to address various issues from removing stigma to accessing care and treatment, besides allowing the PLWHA to live life with dignity," said ANP+ president Jahnabi Goswami after the APACHA launch. She added that the blueprint for the Alliance was made a fortnight ago.
Goswami, 30, went public about her HIV+ status in 1999 and has been advocating awareness against the disease. She has also been demanding a legislation to make HIV/AIDS counselling a compulsory pre-marriage exercise.
Notably, India accounts for some 5.7 million—this UNAIDS figure is contested by New Delhi—HIV-positive people, surpassing South Africa. The Northeast was some time back declared one of the country's high-risk zones with nearly 100,000 people infected with HIV. There are some 1,780 HIV+ people in Assam although unofficial estimates put the number at close to 30,000.