ROADS THAT are symbols of development can, ironically, also become carriers of bad things. And, going by the rising graph of HIV+ patients in Madhya Pradesh, and the prevalence of the dreaded disease across the State, one cannot but conclude that the bigger the road, more the cases of HIV/AIDS.
According to Madhya Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (MPSACS) data, Indore district has the dubious distinction of maximum number of HIV patients. The ART Centre at M Y Hospital too has as many as 478 cases from Indore district, of the total of 1,161 cases, as on January 15, 2007.
The reasons are many and obvious. Most of them, however, are related to development and movement. Says NGO Vishwas director Sister Jaisa, “Indore has always been a commercial city. Migrant workers pour in here every year leaving their wives behind in villages. Also, there is the Agra-Bombay road, where hundreds of trucks ply day in day out. And, truck drivers are the most vulnerable group.”
“Even though Indore has no identified red light area, there is no denying that there are prostitutes who cater to the needs of these people,” she says, adding that truckers form as much as 70 per cent of the total number of affected persons.
Subodh Karnik of ‘Project Kavach’ for truckers agrees. “Indore is a major halting point for long-distance truck drivers. It has been observed that truck drivers indulge in high risk activity whenever they get time due to such prolonged stay,’’ he says. But, Karnik, who is coordinator of the project jointly run by his parent NGO Bharatiya Grameen Mahila Sangh and the Transport Corporation of India (TCI) Foundation, disagrees that it’s only truckers who are prone to such activities.
Another reason is, Karnik says, “NH 3 (AB Road) connects Indore directly to Mumbai. Since long, a large chunk of population with disposable income, the business class and now a days a number of students regularly go to bigger cities in Maharashtra, which has a notably high rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence. These people bring the disease back with them.”
After Indore, Dhar (107) and Ujjain (104) are two districts along the NH 3 which have a significant number of registered HIV + cases. If being the commercial capital has proved to be a bane for the City, Ujjain’s USP as a pilgrim place is also turning it into a high-risk zone. Ujjain being a pilgrim centre, there are visitors all the year round. And of course, the truck drivers are here too. This gives rise to a huge floating population. According to ART Centre in charge Dr V P Pandey, “If we look at the map of MP, we find prevalence more in developed areas, industrial areas. High-risk activity is more because of migrant workforce.”
Experts, however, draw attention to a point that the large number of cases detected here does not mean that there are no HIV/AIDS patients in other areas. It’s just that the number of cases reported/detected here is more and hence more number of cases are found. The City offers better health facilities and also, there is lot of health awareness here.
“Possibly all reasons combined result into why more cases are reported. For instance, in remote or tribal dominated areas, people do not even come forward to test themselves,” observes Karnik. Statistics show that districts like Shahdol, Sidhi, Balaghat and Betul have reported less than five cases each of HIV + people.
Echoes Regional Coordinator for NACO’s HIV/AIDS Sentinel Surveillance Dr Sanjay Dixit, “One more reason can be the fact that Choithram Hospital in the City was the first in the entire State to start the HIV/AIDS testing facility. So cases from all over the State came here.” National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has changed the parameter to detect HIV/AIDS prevalence. “Now, outcome of ante-natal check-ups (ANC) is considered for prevalence rate.
Data shows that even at places like Badwani and Ratlam, ANC tests gives 1 and 2 per cent result respectively, something on par with the southern states with high prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases,” reveals Dr Dixit, who is the Head of the Department of Community Medicine at MGM Medical College.
“In fact, Indore, Mandsaur, Ratlam are emerging as the ‘hotspots’ for HIV/AIDS prevalence,” he says.