India’s largely poor and socially underprivileged tribal population will soon get help for combating HIV and AIDS, a disease they are highly vulnerable to because of growing migration and lack of awareness.
Besides chalking out an ambitious tribal action plan for the section, the country’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) is also planning to conduct a survey to get a clear fix of the number of tribal population that needs to be covered under its plan.
An estimated 2.3 million people have in India are reported to be suffering from HIV.
“The tribal population has become more vulnerable to HIV in the past few years. As they are down in the social ladder, are unable to avail facilities to prevent spread of the disease,” NACO Director General K Sujatha Rao said.
“Tribal areas face the problem of lack of access to health facilities and information. We are planning a tribal action plan for them that will just focus on them,” she added.
NACO formulates policy and implements programmes for the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS.
There are an estimated seven crore tribals in India spread over 575 communities constituting over eight per cent of the total population.
The country has 192 Integrated Tribal Development Areas, of which 65–or about a third–fall in high HIV prevalence districts, a NACO report suggests.
“This shows that they are becoming more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. We are concerned about them,” Rao said.
She further stressed that since tribal people were moving to big cities and towns in search of jobs where they face lot of exploitation, there was a need to target them and create more awareness amongst them.
“We want to work more with the community and integrate them with health services. We want to protect them so that the problem does not become big in future,” she added.
According to NACO Joint Director Mayank Aggarwal the organisation has already earmarked Rs 500,000 per tribal area.
“They are more vulnerable because they are not literate and work in mining or industrial units,” Aggarwal said adding that the country’s Ministry for Tribal Affairs would serve as the nodal organisation for this project.
According to the plan, NACO will train traditional healers so that they can refer those affected with HIV to government centres.
“We plan to counsel them (traditional healers) and provide them with condoms. They are the ones who are sought after in tribal areas. If they are knowledgeable, they will be able to direct and help out people,” he added.
Aggarwal further informed that under the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) and Modified Area Development Approach, hostel facilities would be provided to Scheduled Caste children who were orphaned by AIDS or whose parents are too ill to provide them the necessary care.
NACO is also planning to initiate a train the trainer, officers and healthcare providers on HIV and AIDS.
“Training will be given to those working at all tribal research institutes so that they can act as the apex centre for HIV prevention for tribal populations,” he added.
A comprehensive mapping of HIV–related vulnerabilities like migration and high–risk behaviour in the tribal community is also being planned.
Also, people will be targeted in tribal markets so that they know about HIV.
“We can easily reach out to them during these markets and fairs. We also plan special outreach programmes through mobile clinics in tribal areas,” Aggarwal added.