Challenges faced by the key population during lockdown

Ketholelie Angami, Lanu Aier and Abou Mere addressing the press conference on June 14 in Kohima. (Morung Photo)

Ketholelie Angami, Lanu Aier and Abou Mere addressing the press conference on June 14 in Kohima. (Morung Photo)

Request for exemption of OST doctors & nurses from COVID-19 duty


Morung Express News
Kohima | June 14

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the attention and efforts of the state government and its agencies have shifted towards combating and containing the virus, leaving the key population – PLHIVs on ART, drugs users on OST and TB patients without access to services. 

There have been numerous reports from various parts of the state where the key population are being deprived of the medical services due to non-availability of doctors, nurses and medication giving rise to “miss case” and “loss to follow-up.”

To this end, the community working for the vulnerable population has requested the government to exempt doctors and nurses of ART centers from COVID-19 duty.

Highlighting the plight of the key populations and the challenges faced by the service providers during the lockdown, a press conference was called by the NNP+, NNagaDAO and ARK Foundation this afternoon at Kohima.

ARK Foundation President, Ketholelie Angami said “as a result of COVID-19, many ongoing programmes have been sidelined with numerous challenges facing the community as access to services is being hampered.”

Though the service providers have been giving their best to meet the challenges, and have achieved a lot, Ketholelie Angami said it is now faced with new emergent challenges in various places and settings.

While understanding that COVID-19 is a social issue which needs the collective efforts of everyone, he maintained that the government and department concerned cannot continue to neglect the key population. 

“People shouldn’t be deprived of treatment, abandon HIV/AIDS or stop addressing the needs of the drug users. These groups of people are more vulnerable to the virus with underlining problems. All these have to be addressed simultaneously with equal attention in line to COVID-19,” he stated.

As per the status of people living with HIV (PLHIV) on antiretroviral therapy (ART) till March 2019, a total of 18, 205 patients are registered in HIV care, 8100 on first line ART, 202 on second line ART, 1114 Children living with HIV (CLHIV) in HIV care and 496 CLHIV on ART.

With 29 new registered cases in the month of May 2020, Dimapur district alone has 11011 PLHIV registered in HIV care with 5349 males and 5014 females, 14 TS/TG and 634 children aged between 0-15 years (Male-303 and female-331). 

NNP+ president, Lanu Aier informed that in the absence of doctors and nurses at ART Center Dimapur who are assigned for COVID-19 duty and are under quarantine facilities, there is a rise in “miss case” and “loss to follow-up.”

Terming this as a ‘step-motherly treatment’ by the department, Aier said with new induction of members in the OST programmes, many are not able to access the services as they are deprived of baseline survey, clinical investigations, confirmation test etc in the absence of medical personnel and lab technicians who are now on COVID duty.

With most of the population from these groups coming from low economic backgrounds, Aier said, even if some are able to afford to go to private clinics, they are denied the treatment and are being referred to the district hospitals, which are now converted to COVID-19 Hospitals.

Also highlighting the plight of those suffering from Tuberculosis (TB),  NNagaDAO president, Abou Mere expressed grave concern that patients have nowhere to go for treatment as the TB Hospital in Khuzama has stopped admitting patients after it was converted into a COVID-19 isolation hospital.

He also cited two incidents of misdiagnosis and wrong medication by private practitioners, and said one of the patients passed away recently, and the other who is a minor was fortunately saved by timely intervention.

“The sidelining of the key populations by the department is total violation of human rights and right to health,” said Mere who also emphasised that equal importance should be given to all other ailments and issues.

They also stated that there is no update on the Nagaland State AIDS Control Society (NSACS) websites on the data or information about COVID-19, shifting and relocation of ART centers etc. “They should be pro-active in providing prompt information to the key population,” was what the three organisations concurred.

In this regard, the NNP+ and NNagaDAO have both written to the Department of Health & Family Welfare separately, requesting exemption of OST medical officer and nurses from COVID duty so they can provide treatment and services to those PLHIV who need medical attention

“COVID-19 has affected and changed the entire system of the medical department where everyone has to take active part in all the activities and duty to contain the spread of COVID-19. PLHIV communities are in need of the services and treatment from the ART doctor and they cannot go to other doctors in private hospitals to avail the treatment,” wrote the NNP+.

NNagaDAO has also requested that OST staffs (doctors and nurses) across Nagaland should not be put on COVID-19 duty at the same, so that someone will be available to take care of the OST treatment programme.