ON WORLD AIDS DAY: Tests show HIV spread – Patients to take part in AIDS Day rally today – so how many of these identified AIDs patients were active drug and alcohol abusers, both orally and intravenously – and what about reports from Darjeeling, Dooars & Siliguri, purposely ignored by Bengal due to most alarming results, as usual ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, Nov. 30: The number of HIV patients in Sikkim has reached 199 in 2010, 15 years after tests for the disease began in the state.
There were only two HIV patients in 1995 when the tests were introduced in Sikkim, categorised by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as one of the lowest prevalence states in India.
V. Singhi, the project director of the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society, said 28 persons had died of AIDS after 1995.
“According to our records, the number of surviving AIDS patients in Sikkim is 111 and they are in different age groups. Most of the patients are in the age group of 20-39 and they total 106,” said Singhi.
The project director said there were only two HIV patients in Sikkim in 1995.
“Fourteen persons tested HIV positive in the state in 2005 when the Sikkim society was established in Gangtok. But today, the number is 199. Three patients are below 10 and 152 are aged between 20 and 39,” said Singhi.
He added that Sikkim falls under the low HIV prevalence group of C & D categorised by the NACO.
The project director claimed that HIV/AIDS patients in Sikkim did not face social stigma. “But the patients themselves are not ready to come out in the open,” he said.
On the occasion of World AIDS Day tomorrow, the society will hold a candlelight rally in Gangtok in the evening. “People infected with HIV/AIDS will take part in the rally from Titanic Park to Star Hall Cinema. This will be for the first time in Sikkim that AIDS patients are coming out in the open,” said Singhi.
The society has been working extensively with NGOs, the STNM Hospital in Gangtok and four district hospitals to provide counselling and assistance to high risk group-commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users (IDU) and migrant labourers.
“We have roughly 700 commercial sex workers registered with six NGOs under us in Sikkim. They are provided with general counselling and free condoms along with medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases,” said Singhi.
He added that actual number of commercial sex workers in Sikkim is much higher than those registered with the NGOs.
The number of IDUs in Sikkim is estimated to be between 1,400 and 1,500.
“The NGOs working with us have drop-in-centre facilities where the IDUs can get new syringes. We want to encourage one time use of syringes as they may spread HIV,” Singhi.
The society estimates that Sikkim has migrant labourers between 14,000 and 15000 and most of them are employed at the sites of different mega hydel power projects under construction in the state.
With maximum number of people contracting AIDS through unprotected sex, the society observed that modern lifestyle, easy communication facilities and economic prosperity have led to the demand for commercial sex workers.
Singhi said after a person tested positive for HIV, the society provided free medicines through its anti-retro viral therapy centre in Gangtok.
1 December is observed as World AIDS day – awareness that the “addiction disease” (to alcohol or drugs) is just as common and prevalent like diabetes, cancer or organ failure and can be treated and brought under control – some have it and some don’t – but awareness and understanding of the ‘x-factor genetic disorder’ is the key, nothing to do with “will power” so no social stigma necessary by society, families and those more fortunate not to have this disease ?!!
From The Darjeeling Forum
Approximately 2.5 million people were living with HIV in India in 2006. Whilst almost 25% of the country’s population is between the ages of 15-29 years, this age group accounts for 31% of people living with HIV, demonstrating that young people are at particularly high risk of contracting HIV. To face this risk and turn around the epidemic, young people must be encouraged and supported to take leadership roles within their communities.
HIV/AIDS and the Darjeeling Hills
The Darjeeling Hills are a highly vulnerable area with regards to HIV/AIDS. The backwardness of the region leading to high migration, intra-venous drug users, floating sex worker population, awareness focused in urban areas only are cross cutting factors resulting in the vulnerability.
The data obtained from various sentinel sites and surveillance works in the Darjeeling Hills shows that the hills have a higher prevalence of HIV among different groups that in most other districts in the state. The average HIV positivity in the Voluntary Confidential Counselling and Testing Centre(VCCTC) in the district is 10.8%. The HIV prevalence among attendees of the Sexually Transmitted Disease(STD) and Ante-natal clinics(ANC) is 2.7% (2006) and 0.84%(2005) respectively in Darjeeling. The HIV prevalence among Injecting Drug Users and Commercial Sex Workers ranges from 3.2 to 10% and 7.5 to 14% respectively. (DACC 2005/2006)
Does this sound that I am playing the number game ? Does this mean that I am dehumanizing the entire process ? Does this mean after years work nothing has happened ?
Well maybe I am playing the numbers game, but because Darjeeling Hills did not have any numbers, due to many reasons, we lost out on the national debate on HIV/AIDS.
With much personal debate, I am including the first ever numbers from the Darjeeling Hills. I do believe that I have dehumanized the entire process with the percentages but at a certain level percentages is all that speaks.
Finally it does not mean nothing has happed in the Darjeeling Hills. This year 11 PLHIVs are coming out in the open. The best being Rupa who came out open first time in her own community. Now the campaign is on to have Rupa change her occupation from a tea plucker to a peer educator in the tea garden she lives in.
The state of pseudo-inaction also needs to be looked at from the historical perspective of how our community has evolved. The various interventions on HIV/AIDS or lack of it in this evolutionary process of our community need to be analysed. Bottom-line the state our community is in:
• Denial – A state of denial exists in society and the individual. The society has yet to accept HIV/AIDS as its issue. This state of denial pushes HIV/AIDS to the margins and necessary actions are relegated as an unimportant issue. HIV/AIDS is a developmental issue affecting all of us, yet it is never discussed as one, in all walks of life. At an individual level, most people look at HIV/AIDS as something that will not affect him or herself, indulging in high risk behaviour or not accepting positive people.
• Stigma and Discrimination – This state of denial, the image that is created around HIV/AIDS and myths and misconception of HIV/AIDS has led to a very high stigma on HIV/AIDS. The stigma prevails in the Darjeeling hills too denying the right to a dignified life for the people and families living with HIV/AIDS.
UNAIDS characterizes HIV-related stigma as a process of devaluation of those living or associated with the epidemic. Discrimination is defined as the unfair and unjust treatment of an individual based on real or perceived status.
The existing state of our community results in:
• People and families living with HIV/AIDS are denied a dignified life
• HIV/AIDS gets hidden
• Rapid spread of HIV/AIDS
TAKE THE LEAD this World AIDS Day and the coming years !!
The theme of “TAKE THE LEAD” – 2007 and 2008, builds on 2006 theme of accountability to stop AIDS by keeping the promise. All of us are called to be leaders of our family, friends, colleagues and community. Take the lead and talk about HIV/AIDS with your family, friends, colleagues and community. Open your welcoming arms of love to people and families living with HIV/AIDS. Be a partner in providing care and support to People and Families living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Advocate proactively for the rights of PLWHA.
Be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. – Lord Buddha
This year the AIDS Day will start with a meeting with Doctors, Police and other important officials in the Shanker Foundation Office. This is followed by an awareness programme in Marwari Sahayik Hall in town with Shanker Daju giving the keynote address. There will be three stalls in Big Bazar, Chowrastha and Lower Bata with resource persons, information and also the POSITIVE CALANDER 2009.
A press release was done today which highlighted the issues and problems of PLHIV in the Darjeeling Hills. The local channel is featuring a programme tomorrow evening at 7 pm from a rights based perspective.
Besides other organizations are taking individual programmes like signature campaigns, human chain in Kalimpong, information kiosks will be going on today.