Dr. V. Sam Prasad, Country Program Director, AHF (Left) with the AHF Team in Kohima. The mannequin is adorned with a garment made of condoms. (Morung Photo)
Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | February 20
Despite Nagaland State accounting for a staggering 91% of HIV transmission through the sexual route, the talk about use of condoms is still considered taboo. During the recently concluded North East Multimedia Campaign, one lakh condoms were provided for free by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which is the world’s largest HIV organisation working in 43 countries across the globe.
“We came here with one lakh condoms and not a single box is left now,” Dr. V Sam Prasad, Country Program Director, AHF said while stating his concerns about HIV prevalence in the region. “The major challenge we have and are looking at North East is the approach towards condom since the region is Christian majority and the church has a very different stance on this,” he remarked.
He went on to say that, “they are not loud about prevention probably because of the stigma attached to condoms and the staunch approach that the church is taking on this but one thing that I would want to say is that if you look through the route of transmission, especially Nagaland, 91% is through sexual route.”
Information, awareness, access
“In order to have an effective program in HIV prevention in this part of the country, the church has a definite role to play,” he asserted while impressing upon the need to have intensified training programmes for all the faith based organisations to open up.
Towards this end, he felt that the church is not giving the opportunity for people to get information about and access to condoms. “Information is one thing, awareness is second and access is third. If you give a lot of awareness and if you don’t have any condoms in the State or if you are not promoting condom use, then the people are still at risk,” he Dr. Prasad stated.
Pointing out that talking of condoms is the current need and has to be normalized, he also informed that “when we came here, we wanted to do a condom signature campaign but were told not to do explicitly, probably because it would attract a lot of hostility from different sectors including the church.”
“It is probably culturally not relevant,” he stated but, “I think culturally, we are very forward in the North Eastern states. I think it is religious sentiments that we are looking at.”
He reiterated that in order to tackle these areas in HIV prevalence, the church has a definite role to play and has to come out. “We don’t have to have preachers on the pulpits talking about condoms but at the same time, the approach has to be different,” he added.
Sexual & reproductive health
In the meantime, he felt that the normalization of using condoms can take place if ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health’ is made part of the curriculum for the clergy, church workers, priests and for students in Bible colleges.
In this regard, he said the AHF will be glad to develop a module for them and also conduct sessions, do a Training of Trainers (ToT) and then those trainers can further train those who are going to be future priests and clergy of the church.
Also dwelling on the theme of the recently held Campaign- ‘North East United Against HIV,’ Dr. Prasad emphasized that the one thing that can unite is prevention and the most important thing is condoms. “We talk about many other ways of prevention but without condoms, HIV cannot be actually stopped,” he asserted.
Mention may be made here that the AIDS HealthCare Foundation (AHF) is a 31-year old organization, based in Los Angeles and currently has around 11 lakh people under ART care across the world. Their services are free, spanning from prevention to care and beyond. Their own brand of condoms in India is called ‘Love.’ In the past year, about 4 lakh HIV tests were done through AHF out of which 3610 were tested positive. One of their recent initiatives include ‘Online Free Condom Store’ which works by people sending in mails to them with names (may not necessarily be their real names) and whatever address they want and the AHF sends them condoms according to their requirements.
In a span of 3 months following the initiative, Dr. V. Sam Prasad, Country Program Director, AHF informed that about 10 lakh condoms were sent throughout the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari including Nagaland. “There is a lot of response. People need condoms, they are much aware of protection but they are very shy to come out,” he stated.