13 March 2012
By Radheshyam Jadhav
hidden group in pune throws HIV prevention programmes out of gear
Bogged down by a shoddy mechanism, the Pune district AIDS prevention control unit has identified just 150 Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) in a population of over 50 lakh in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad in the last five years.
The unidentified IDU population poses a challenge for the state and centre's AIDS control programmes. Both are spending huge sums to stem HIV, but without authentic and consolidated IDU figures, the programme may not achieve its purpose, officials said.
Hidden IDUs can spread HIV, but can get help at drop-in centres to seek counselling and treatment, but in a diversified population, students and upper class IDUs never go to such government or NGO run centres.
Unlike the attention sex workers get for AIDS control programmes, there was no specific government agency or machinery to focus on IDUs, they added. HIV transmission is high through blood transfer by sharing of infected needles and IDUs can infect their partners by having unprotected sex, thus multiplying the number of HIV patients.
“As of now, we do not have any specific mechanism to identify IDUs in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad, especially among the student community. The only way to know their numbers is through NGOs,” Sandeep Dhavale, Pune district programme officer of AIDS, said.
The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has insisted on working with IDUs, especially youths, through target intervention projects.
Under its programme-III, Naco estimated the number of IDUs as 1.86 lakh in India. Revised mapping put the number at 1.77 lakh. Of these, the organisation claims to cover 1.36 lakh (76%) IDUs through targeted intervention projects.
Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad, however, would have more IDUs, officials said. "The overall population and number of students coming to the city is rising. However, there is no empirical study or data to understand the actual drug users and IDUs among them. Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad have very few drop-in centres run by NGOs," Sanyogita Dhamdhere, state programme coordinator of Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), told TOI. The centre is working with NGOs dealing with IDUs in the northeastern states.
"The government wants to reach each and every individual affected with HIV so that it does not spread. Concealed IDUs remain a major challenge for us. We are trying to bring NGOs together and draft a plan to reach the students’ community and floating population in Pune," said Dhawale.
Health activists are upset about the lack of action in Maharashtra when smaller states like Nagaland have developed a network to reach every strata of IDUs.
"It is a concern if Pune continues to ignore IDUs, especially against the backdrop of a large number of students' population. Concealed IDUs continue to spread HIV by using same syringe. Drug addiction in student community should be brought under scrutiny," Susan Lotha, who works as assistant project officer with project Orchid in Dimapur, Nagaland, said. Hundreds of youth activists and NGOs that work to combat the IDU challenge in Nagaland shared their experiences with reporters recently.
"Compared to Maharashtra, which has a well-equipped mechanism to curb HIV infection through various means, Nagaland is still a backward state. Even so, interventions like safe-sex counseling by peers, clinical services like treatment for sexually transmitted infections, distribution of free condoms, needles and syringe exchange programmes among the most-at-risk population, has prevented the virus from spreading. The network of NGOs and churches is helping tackle the IDU problem," Chenithung Humtsoe, chief functionary of Bethesda Youth Welfare Centre in Nagaland, told TOI.Facts And Figures
Under the Oral Substitution Therapy substance abusers are made to keep a Bupernorphin pill under their tongue for five minutes every day under a supervising doctor. This cuts their desire for addiction There are an estimated 2 lakh IDUs in India and nearly 25% of them are suffering from HIV due to sharing of contaminated needles Of these over 50,800 people are from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Most of them are below the age of 20 and over 20% are HIV positive due to sharing of contaminated needlesThe Risk
- Using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs
- Reusing bottle caps, spoons or other containers used to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions
- Reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters to filter out particles that could block the needle
- Street sellers may repackage used syringes and sell them as sterile ones. It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin popping and injecting steroids, can put one at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections