Political will, leadership and commitment required to combat HIV & AIDS
Atono Tsükrü Kense
Kohima | October 29
Nagaland has the 2nd highest adult (15-49 years) HIV prevalence in the country at 1.45% (female-1.41% and male- 1.50%), greater than the national prevalence at 0.22%.
According to the ‘India HIV estimates 2019 report’ by NACO and ICMR, Mizoram was estimated to have the highest adult HIV prevalence (2.32%), followed by Nagaland (1.45%) and Manipur (1.18%).
As per the statistics, it is alarming to learn that adult HIV prevalence in Nagaland is seven times the national average while HIV incidence is 16 times that of national average. Further, 91% of the new HIV cases in Nagaland are through the sexual route.
New HIV infection per 1,000 in 2019 for Nagaland was estimated at 1.55% (adult-1.48%, female-0.68% and children-0.06%), while the number of PLHIV per thousand was estimated at adult - 21.56%, female – 9.99% and children - 0.89%. AIDS related mortality was at 0.57%.
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic which has almost paralysed access and services, the disbanded Legislators Forum on AIDS (LFA) has also come as a huge blow in the battle against HIV & AIDS in Nagaland.
Situation more serious now
Speaking to The Morung Express, Director of Kripa Foundation, Abou Mere and President, Access to Rights and Knowledge Foundation (ARK), Ketholelie Angami, who have been at the forefront for drug users and PLHIVs, expressed grave concern on the statistics.
Mere said “it should be a shame,” adding that though 91% of the new HIV cases in Nagaland is through the sexual route as per the data, there is no scientific study done to determine as to which group of population is driving the epidemic.
“HIV in Nagaland is still or even more serious than before, for reasons that it is ever increasing among the general population, significantly the youth, through the sexual route of transmission,” stated Angami. He further rued the lack of easy access to service.
Meanwhile, Angami maintained that the government is “definitely not doing enough,” and is simply following the national programme without attending to local needs, which he viewed is not going to help.
To this end, he maintained that the State Government needs to be engaged more through shared responsibility and not only rely on the Central Government.
LFA must be revived
They have also shared their displeasure on the disbanding of LFA.
“It is unfortunate especially when the programme needs it the most in this COVID crisis” observed Angami and shared that LFA must be revived in a new shape with a new strategy.
Mere also expressed displeasure and said that political leaders cannot disown their responsibility to perform their constitutional responsibility and provide the right to health for its citizens.
The legislators, he insisted, should engage communities and civil society in planning, implementation, getting feedback/inputs, and creating a supportive environment and systems in reversing the epidemic with cost effectiveness.
He also opined that legislators, as political leaders have inherent influence on the people and their involvement in spearheading health campaigns will influence the people’s knowledge and attitudes with regard to HIV, TB, Cancer, Viral Hepatitis etc.
“Political leadership is the need of the hour. The role of political leadership is very important and imperative to spearhead and monitor the programs” added Mere.
Ways to check HIV spread
Suggesting other strategies to check the spread of HIV, Mere advocated exploring ways to address this concern by bringing specific strategies and policies. He called for intensifying efforts and promoting effective HIV prevention.
He also said that ease of service, making more comprehensive packages available, addressing the sexual route of transmission through focussed intervention, provision of mass awareness and advocacy campaigns, appointing the ombudsman, reducing alcohol use among young populations, strategies on HIV relation to COVID etc, are some actions that can be worked out to check the rate of HIV spread.
Meanwhile, the HIV Estimations 2019 report reiterated that while the country is on track in achieving the reduction in AIDS-related deaths at the national level and also in a majority of the States/UTs, fast-tracking the progress to achieve targets for reduction in new HIV infections remains a priority.