UTTAR PRADESH is up two rungs on the AIDS ladder overtaking Karnataka and Manipur.
Figures released by the Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (UPSACS) suggest that the state now has 2911 people living with AIDS – a rise of more than 100 per cent than last year’s 1383. Karnataka (2896) and Manipur (2866) now trail UP, which is fifth on the dubious list behind Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharastra and Tamil Nadu.
Worse, the figure of 2911 is based on data collected up to September only and the tally may easily touch the 3000-mark by year-end.
The spread of disease is being attributed to the failure in social marketing of prevention methods. Also, poor response to the awareness campaigns among the most vulnerable groups has compounded the problem.
Take for instance the Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCTC). It mostly gets cases referred by doctors and seldom somebody approaches it voluntarily.
“Almost 80 per cent tests are done on doctors’ prescription. Voluntary tests are rare and obviously need more focus,” said Dr Vimla Venkatesh of the VCTC at the King George’s Medical University (KGMU).
Despite the fact that women constitute almost 40 per cent of the HIV positive cases, the participation of the fair sex at VCTC is only 20 to 22 per cent, said Dr Ventatesh.
“Health care service providers are yet to earn the confidence of the vulnerable groups. Lack of facilities and social stigmas hinder even distribution of condoms at primary health centres,” said Shakuntala, coordinator of Sahyog, a voluntary organisation working on health care issues in UP.
“It is because of the stigma attached with the disease that people who can afford the cost go to private clinics for medicines. More so, 70 per cent people come at Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) centres only after much counselling by their doctors,” said Dr AK Tripathi, incharge of KGMU ART centre.
Also, the UPSACS gets little or no help from other government arms in its AIDS prevention campaign. Say promoting condom use, for instance. “This is because the health department’s schemes are restricted to birth control measures and they have other alternatives methods too. While we promote 100 per cent condom use for prevention of the disease,” said Muktha Sharma of UPSACS.
Ironically, free distribution of condoms in UP through the government health system network has also remained neglected.
The state received 1331.02 lakh condoms from the Centre for distribution through the hospitals and government clinics in 2001-02 but it could distribute only 1203.66 lakh condoms. In 2002-03, the number of undistributed condoms went up to 587.12 lakh and in 2003-04 and 2004-03 it was 239.51 and 220.37 lakh respectively.
The plan to install condom vending machines was prepared four years ago and but due to social problems in selling condom at places like universities and markets the plan was dropped.
“The scheme for installing condom vending machines is still in the pipeline as a final decision for installing them is awaited,” Muktha said.