Long held to be a low-prevalent category state in terms of percentage of HIV+ people, Bengal has shown an alarming spike in fresh infections among adults over the last couple of years. As per figures collated by the Union health ministry and forwarded to different state governments, of the 1.61 lakh new infections detected over the last two years, Bengal alone accounts for 8% of these cases.The numbers have set alarm bells ringing in the state health department, with top officials voicing worries over the perceived quantum leap from the days when Bengal accounted for merely 2.2% of the national figure of 25,00,000.
A senior health official said the numbers are worrying and his department has already begun exploring ways to arrest this grim northward trend of HIV cases going forward.
Bengal had earlier been clubbed with Odisha, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttarakhand, which comprise the low-prevalent category states in terms of HIV+ cases.
However, the numbers over the last couple of years threaten to put Bengal in league with Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Manipur and Nagaland, which are classed as high-prevalent category states in this regard.
According to Nabanna sources, what’s more alarming that it isn’t Kolkata but East Midnapore that has accounted for the maximum number of infections over the last two years.
Again, according to sources in the state health department, over 900 new cases have been recorded in East Midnapore. “The number of affected women in the district is almost the same as males,” a senior health official told HT.
With over 250 fresh infections, the Tamluk sub-division of East Midnapore has recorded the highest count of cases in the district over the last two years.
Top health officials pointed to three reasons that likely contributed to the spike in HIV cases in Bengal. “The migration from the rural Bengal to the high-prevalent states has been on the rise in the recent past. Many get infected while away, and return home as carriers, thereby exposing their spouses, especially those pregnant, to the risk of infection. Thirdly, we believe there’s been a rise in cases of local women being pushed into flesh trade, especially along highways, where they come across truck drivers and their cleaning helps and risk infection,” the official said.