Jharkhand’s fight against HIV amid rising cases has hit hurdles with low-rung public representatives shying away from spreading awareness on safe sex, including the use of condoms.
More than 18,000 people in the tribal-dominated state have HIV, an increase of over 1,100 from last year, according to a government survey.
More than 90% of the people affected are rural dwellers and migrants who contracted the virus in other states, said officials.
“We know about the disease but it very difficult to talk about it,” said village chief Prakash Tuddu from East Singhbhum district.
With over 2 million people infected with HIV in 2013, India has the most cases in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the WHO, but new infections have fallen more than 20% in the past 14 years.
“Not only panchayati raj institution (PRI) members but even health workers don’t want to talk about HIV or safe sex in Jharkhand. For them it remains a taboo and a social stigma,” said Dr Shami Akhtar, who’s in charge of interventional programmes at the state AIDS control society (JSACS).
He said until the panchayati raj representatives speak up about the health aspect, cases will keep coming in.
“At JSACS we estimate more than 5,000 people living with HIV have gone undetected in Jharkhand because they are unaware about their symptoms,” Akhtar said. The bottleneck remains despite the Jharkhand health department training health workers and PRIs.
“The JSACS module for them includes awareness on HIV, safe sex and helping patients reach anti-retroviral therapy centres at government hospitals for frontline medicines and regular check-ups,” said Sudeep Sanyal, a consultant for the interventional programmes at the society.
The WHO says HIV patients should be put on an anti-retroviral therapy of three drugs immediately after diagnosis and everyone at risk of becoming infected should be offered protective doses of similar drugs.
Zilla Parishad member from Gumla district Thimbu Oraon said, “There are posters at health centres and hospitals. They (people) learn about the disease from there. We needn’t tell them.”