Deaths ring AIDS alarm bell in State

By Ibankyntiew Mawrie

 SHILLONG: 49 deaths including three children since 2002 due to HIV/AIDS in Meghalaya, coupled with the increase in the number of affected persons over the years reveal that the AIDS cases are increasing at an alarming rate and may reach epidemic proportions in the near future.

Speaking to The Shillong Times on Thursday on the eve of two-day observance of World AIDS Day, the Meghalaya Aids Control Society (MACS), Project Director, Dr S Laloo revealed that from April to October this year 12 people have lost their lives due to AIDS.

Moreover, as many as 28,719 persons underwent tests of which 364 were detected as HIV positive this year.

However, the detected cases were only 255 in last year and 132 the year before.

The HIV/AIDS, unheard of 20 years ago in Meghalaya, is taking its toll raising concerns of many who described the disease as a silent killer.

As per the available statistics, in the state, altogether 79,197 underwent HIV testing at Integrated Counseling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) out of which 1123 have been tested positive between 2002 till this year.

The statistics provided by Meghalaya AIDS Control Society (MACS), indicate that there is an increase in the number of people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in the State over the past few years.

“In 2011-2012, around 28719 underwent test of which 364 were found to be infected with the virus and in 2010-2011, among 16935 suspected cases over 255 were found tobe HIV positive. Similarly, in 2009-10 of 8,700 suspected cases 132 were tested HIV positive”, the official added.

Concerned over the increase in AIDS cases in the state, people are now coming forward for testing in order to detect the deadly virus. This has facilitated detection of the disease at an early stage, Laloo said.

The willingness of people to come forward has facilitated treatment as well as getting almost a correct figure of infected people. “With two mobile ICTC vans in place in Shillong and Tura, people can get themselves tested there and then”, she added.

Currently, 1123 people with 8 infants under the age of 15 are being administered anti-retro viral treatment in the state. The MACS has its ART (Anti Retro Viral Treatment) centres in Shillong, Tura and Jowai which cater to the needs of people living with HIV.

The MACS project director said the total death due to HIV/AIDS for the last ten years is 49 including three children and from April till October 2012 alone, 12 deaths were reported.

She also said that every possible step is being taken to ensure that awareness is spread far and wide even to the rural areas by holding road shows, workshops, camps, information melas, rallies etc.

Dr Laloo said, “Mining areas of the state like Rambrai, Ladrymbai and Borsora are vulnerable areas as far as AIDS is concerned since they are dominated by sex workers, drug users and even migrant population.”

For effective implementation of the Targeted Intervention (TI) projects designed to address the social issue of HIV/AIDS, MACS has taken the help of local NGOs to help them with the implementation of 8 TI projects all over the state.

It was learnt that for East Khasi Hills, 3 projects are being implemented of which one is being taken up by Manbha Foundation targeting a population of 400 injection drug users (IDUs), another by Voluntary Health Association of Meghalaya (VHAM) covering a population of 200 IDUs. The 200 IDUs will also be given an Opioid substitution therapy (OST). The KJPA Selda is handling a core composite project covering 400 female sex workers (FSW) and 200 Men having sex with Men (MSM).

The project in Garo Hills is being implemented by Adir Gandhian Society and in Jaintia Hills, two projects are being operated by VHAM and Mih Myntdu Community Social Welfare Association (MCSWA) implementing IDU project and FSW project respectively whereas in Ri Bhoi, two projects were given to KJPA Selda and Manbha Foundation handling FSW and migrant projects respectively.

“These projects are being funded by MACS through National AIDS Control Society (NACO) under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and Family welfare”, MACS Project Director said adding that there are two foreign funded projects as well but the funds go directly to the concerned NGOs implementing the projects.

Like every year, this year too, MACS will organise different awareness programmes on the occasion of World AIDS Day which will start from Friday and continue till December 1 which included rally, workshop for media persons, legal practitioners, medical practitioners, students besides others.

“With the help of the society and NGOs, we are trying our best to ensure that the people suffering from this disease do not face the added pain of social stigma from the general public although there are no such incidents reported so far.” Laloo asserted.

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