Meghalaya resting upon a ticking time bomb: Alarming increase in HIV cases!


SHILLONG; April 13, 2017: A moment of pleasure for pain of a lifetime- This is the adage that the youth of Meghalaya now seem to abide by. Recklessness and lack of patience has landed an alarming increase in cases of HIV. As per reports, there is an alarming 40 to 45 percent increase in the number of HIV infected person- 85 percent of which is only through sexual routes.

The state not just shares the top spot with Nagaland in the country in the number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infected and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) positive people, it also stands as the state with the highest number of Syphills (STD) cases in the North East.

 "HIV is increasing in the state. West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills and East Khasi Hills, these are the high burden districts. There is an 40- 50 average increase every month in new infection which is alarming," informed Board Member of Meghalaya State Network of Positive People , Barry L Kharmalki.

"The state is a ticking time bomb says experts from the field of HIV," he added.

Informing more Kharmalki said that the age group of the infected varies.  "We have 127 children and mostly these are from 15 to 35 age groups around 70 percent of them are from this age group," he said further adding, "In Meghalaya around 85 percent of infections happens through sexual routes".

"People are not really using condoms and it is still a taboo in the state. We have had NGO's working in villages telling about condoms and the villagers inturn thought we condone sex to children and youngsters," said Kharmalki adding that as NGO's working in the HIV field they really have to work on condom promotion and how to have safer sex.

Digging deep into the problem faced by the NGO's in fighting the deadly virus, Kharmalki said, "Lots of people are diagnosed with HIV but we don't know where they are. We have over 300 people missing and if we do the math the number swells and they could be anywhere".

"It is a big challenge and few were brought back. We are really sitting on a time bomb and we don't really know how many people know this," he said.

 Suggesting holistic approach as the way out, he said,  "We will really be having a problem if we do not do something now. Not only should the HIV community but also others start looking into this collectively".

It may be mentioned that there are 21 lakh estimated persons living with HIV in the country, 12.20 lakh patients registered with the government, 10 lakh patients on treatment, 68,000 AIDS related deaths annually,15,500 patients on second-line drugs and 125 patients on third-line drugs.

Meanwhile, the Meghalaya State Network of Positive People, MSNPP today welcomed the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017 passed by the Lok Sabha but however pointed out that clause 14 of the bill is a legally vague clause which can act as an escape route for the government in providing universal comprehensive access to ARV treatment.

Board member of MSNPP, Barry L Kharmalki said, "The bill is good. We are waiting for the past three years for this bill which had been pending. It is very good it provides a legislative assembly framework to protect the right of the people living with HIV, when it comes to health, education, public facilities. It is good it made discrimination towards people living with HIV illegal".

Informing  that  discrimination against vulnerable population like sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men are considered to be key population in the contact of HIV epidemic, Kharmalki said,  "The centres targeted intervention for HIV prevention are aimed at these communities. The original version of the bill drafted in consultation with civil society provided specific protection from discrimination for these communities as well. Often hospitals refuse to provide healthcare services to these key populations. However, the bill passed by the parliament has limited protection against discrimination to people living with HIV and those who reside with them".

He further said that while the anti discrimination chapter is an important firststep, for key populations who are central to the government prevention effors, there is a huge gap in the bill.

Pointng out that Clause 14 of the bill dilutes the obligation on the government to provide access to ARVs with the phrase "as far as possible", Kharmalki said, "This is a legally vague clause and can act as an escape route for the government in providing universal comprehensive access to ARV treatment".

"In the past few years there have been repeated stock out of key ARVs. In addition the bill does not mentioned access to treatment for co-infections or to diagnostic kits which have also been major stock outs in recent years," he added.

Expressing concern he said, "My area of concern is the weak treatment clause. India is the biggest and the largest producer of HIV generic medicines in the world which are affordable, but still the government is not willing to make any legal commitment. Infact they have put in the bill as far as possible. This four words has always been a bone of contention among the HIV activist".

He also informed that there are 21 lakh estimated persons living with HIV in the country and only 12 lakh availing treatment leaving a large chunk outside the ambit of treatment. "We would like them to amend this language," he said.

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday had passed the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017 in efforts to strengthen public health legislature for the HIV community. The Bill had been passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 22 earlier this year.

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