More than nine lakh people from high-risk groups continue to be out of reach of HIV/Aids prevention programmes, despite continued focus on them, state data reveals. These high-risk groups comprise female sex workers, men having sex with men (MSMs), intravenous drug users (IDUs).
Over the past five years, target intervention projects run by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) went up three-fold from 700 to an estimated 2,100 across the country. Though the projects cover an estimated 11,28,780 individuals across the state, 9,13,020 persons continue to be out of reach of these programmes, according to Maharashtra State Aids Control Society (MSACS) data. Of the 144 projects run in Maharashtra, 43 are in Mumbai covering 1,81,300 individuals from high-risk groups. Initiatives focusing on female sex workers have ensured that cases of infection have dropped from 42 % in 2004 to 7.2% in 2008, MSACS said.
However, activists warn that despite these encouraging numbers, sustained efforts towards awareness and acceptance are needed. “Although awareness has gone up considerably, there is a lot of work needed to eradicate stigma and protect their rights,” said Priti Patkar, head of Prerna, an NGO working for rights of commercial sex workers.
Unlike in case of female sex workers, HIV prevalence among other high-risk groups such as MSM and drug users has reduced only marginally. Activists say that though decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2009 has helped intervention efforts among MSMs and transgenders, social acceptance is still lacking. “The reality is that harassment continues. Since there is no acceptance from society, they remain vulnerable,” Ashok Row Kavi, gay rights activist and founder chairperson of Humsafar Trust.
Activists insist that these numbers should not be an excuse to downsize outreach programmes. “Now that incidence is falling, one should not reduce the pace or investments in the prevention programmes,” said Niranjan Saggurti, senior programme officer of Population Council. “The funds have started to dry up and if we do not continue to with the same level of intervention, vulnerability of women will simply go up,” said Shilpa Merchant, head of Sangini Sanghamitra who works with sex-workers in Mumbai.