Kohima, Nov.30 (EMN): Nagaland has the third highest prevalence rate of adult HIV in the country at 0.76 %, and 91% of the cases are reportedly transmitted through sexual route—according to official estimates released by National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) and Nagaland State AIDS Control Society( NSACS)—informed Abou Mere, director of Kripa Nagaland at the World Aids Day prelude on Saturday.

The event was organised by Kripa Foundation Nagaland and Kohima Users Network at Kripa D’Block DIC in Kohima.

According to Mere, though the data suggests sexual route as the main mode of transmission, no scientific study has been conducted to determine which group of population is ‘driving the epidemic’.

“It is therefore imperative to initiate a comprehensive review and in-depth study to understand the main drivers of the epidemic and develop our own state-specific innovative interventions with sustainable policies and resources from the state government,” he said.

Mere maintained that in the context of Nagaland, key populations and NGOs have played a major role in bringing down HIV infection.

“Their involvement makes a significant difference to many people’s lives, especially among injecting drug users,” he said and continued “HIV still spreads through sexual routes, and frequent stock-out of critical lifesaving ART medication in Nagaland has become a major public health.”

He informed that People Living with HIV and Aids (PLHIV) depending on ART drugs are made to undergo tremendous pressure and anxiety ‘but our state still do not have viral load testing machine for monitoring viral load and quality management system (QMS) to determine treatment regimen’.

“We feel the need to continue with our advocacy efforts,” he said and encouraged NSACS and the state government to be more ambitious in investing in evidence-based interventions that can accelerate strategies to promote and protect the right to health and improve quality of life across the state.

Mere further highlighted that hard-to-access health facilities and services deprives many of the key population living in far-flung rural areas of their right to health and quality treatment. He acknowledged the contributions of all the legislators, “who provided INR 1 lakh every year and demonstrated significant political leadership in response to HIV and AIDS.”

He further added that with their support “substantial progress has been made and much has been accomplished, especially in reducing stigma faced by PLHIV and key populations”.

He mentioned how the existing fund for HIV prevention and treatment through Naco, government of India is insufficient to sustain these critical life-saving programmes, ‘but unfortunately, the present state government has decided to discontinue the Nagaland Legislators’ Forum on Aids’.

“The only source of state government funding and opportunity for political action with regard to the HIV programme is no more,” he rued, adding that it may directly hamper the state’s ability to control the increasing new HIV cases among the general population.

Mere also said that at this crucial juncture, cutting funds and reduction of political will and action would cause serious setbacks to the HIV programme, posing a threat to public health response that has the potential to undermine the hard-won gains that Nagaland has achieved.

With this background, he appealed to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and all elected legislators “to reconsider their decision and continue their support to the HIV/AIDS programme with a new strategic plan and an implementable action model for Nagaland involving the key population communities”.

This would translate into effective action to address the multiple dimensions of the epidemic and ensure the highest attainable levels of public health for all, he added.

H Chishi, president of Nagaland Press Association, said that various communities in Nagaland have fought for the rights and needs of PLHIV.

Communities can also play a role in holding governments accountable for ensuring that services are accessible to all those who need it, he added.

Chishi shared that community response to HIV must be incorporated in state and national Aids plans “from the planning and budgeting phases, to the execution, monitoring and evaluation phases”.

Chishi also urged the church, village council, women and student organisations to work together and play their roles in eradicating stigma associated with PLHIV.

~EMN

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