Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Political advocacy

Nagaland’s battle against HIV and AIDS has been a long-running one. Victories are rarely easy but this particular crusade appears to get tougher and tougher every time some new grounds are gained. Worrisome data keep emerging ~ reminding us periodically of our grim status concerning HIV and AIDS. The latest appearance of such alarming data was at the 2nd Nagaland Harm Reduction Conference held at Kohima on March 28. There, Health authorities said that due to the HIV situation in the State, Nagaland has the highest antenatal care (ANC) prevalence rate in India ~ 1.61% against the national average of 0.22%. The adult prevalence rate (among 15-49 years of age) in the State is at 1.36% against the national average of 0.21, which is the second highest in the country. As per the National Family Health Survey, only 16% of the youth (15-24 years of age) has comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS; 45% of youth does not know the source of condom, and 37% of sexually active youth are engaged in high-risk sexual behaviour. Data till December 2022 in the State indicate that about 21% of the HIV-positive cases are those below the age of 24, while the major route of HIV transmission is through sexual activities (87%) and injecting route (6.7%). The HIV Sentinel Surveillance of 2021 shows a worrying trend of increase in HIV prevalence among injecting drug users (IDU) ~ from 1.3% to 2.24%. At the same event, the Health authorities went through the usual motion of appreciating the Non-Governmental Organisations and the field team who are at the forefront of this battle (they’ve always been the ones at the forefront). As pointed out, their tireless works have enabled the State to bring down the HIV prevalence amongst IDUs from a 39% prevalence rate in 1991 to 2.4% by 2021. At which point, recollections guide us to a particular remark made at Kohima on May 15 last year. While speaking on the sidelines of the 39th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, one of the activists heading an advocacy group made the statement that as far as Nagaland political leadership is concerned, the issue of HIV and AIDS in the State is not on their list of priorities. And really, how many of our Legislators have we seen championing the cause for People Living with HIV and AIDS? Sure there was a Legislators’ Forum on AIDS formed in 2004. But it was deactivated after 15 years in 2019. According to advocacy groups in the State, the discontinuation of the Forum has affected the fight against HIV and AIDS. Political advocacy, when applied sincerely, can be a powerful tool ~ but this weapon is no longer available to the PLHIV community in Nagaland. In September last year, a Sampoorna Suraksha Kendra was launched at Kohima “with a view to rolling out implementation of Sampoorna Suraksha Strategy (SSS)”. Kohima was among 75 districts selected in the first phase of rolling out the SSS implementation. Under this programme, the at-risk population will avail of a comprehensive package model of service delivery, which includes a set of services customised as per the client’s needs, with strong linkages and referrals with other services and social security schemes, rigorous outreach and follow-ups with clients, leveraging virtual platforms through various apps and other sources, including ~ but not limited to ~ Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including syphilis, etc. By employing various devices, it also aims to make it attractive to younger populations such as adolescents and youth ~ who belong to a highly susceptible group. The stated vision of SSS is to accelerate national HIV response by reaching out to the population at risk for HIV and STIs towards achieving the United Nations 95-95-95 target and reducing HIV and STI/RTI infection. Given Nagaland’s perilous numbers in terms of HIV prevalence rate (second highest in the country), our political leaders can push for additional priority and seek for inclusion of more than one district in the next phase and the succeeding ones even. After all, taking Nagaland towards a “State of Excellence” (as loudly proclaimed by the present Government) should feature looking after the welfare of your own citizens, as marginalised as they are.