An Andhra district scripts HIV success story

May 11th, 2008 - 12:30 pm ICT by admin  

By Sahil Makkar
Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), May 11 (IANS) This coastal Indian district was once notorious for high HIV prevalence, but it has now become a role model for others by reducing the number of new cases to nearly half in three years. According to a government survey, HIV prevalence in Guntur in 2003 was 3.35 percent - the highest among the 23 districts in the state. But in 2005, the figure came down to 2.75 percent and in 2006, it was 1.75 percent.

“Guntur was among one of the high HIV-prevalence districts in the country in 2003. But following concerted efforts by government and non-government agencies, the figures have come down to 1.7 percent,” B. Kalidas, additional project director of AP State AIDS Control Society (APSACS), told IANS.

“It is now a role model for other districts.”

Guntur is famed for Asia’s largest chilly market and has a population of over 4.4 million. About 87 km of National Highway 5 passes through the district, accounting for a high number of truckers here. These drivers are seen as a prime reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

But a combination of programmes seems to be proving effective in Guntur where 36 NGOs are active in different capacities.

The largest network, Telugu Network of Positive People, headed by Ramesh Babu, boasts of nearly 45,000 activists who go to every village to spread awareness about the disease and to help remove the stigma attached to it.

Babu said there are nearly 10,000 sex workers in the district and pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations were the main reason for the high HIV prevalence rate.

Guntur has around 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients. Andhra Pradesh accounts for 500,000 of India’s estimated 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients. Around 90 percent of infected people in the state contract the virus from unsafe sex.

Statistics, however, suggest that Guntur was the only district where the numbers came down drastically in three years, while the percentage became double or more in places like Hyderabad, Khammam, Mahabubnagar, Medak, Ranga Reddy and Kurnool.

“The UN driven programme, Charca, which was exclusively launched here, coupled with other mass awareness programmes - Aasha and Be Bold - have played a key role in containing HIV prevalence in the district,” Kalidas said.

Charca is a coordinated effort among UN agencies in India to reduce the vulnerability of young women to HIV and sexually transmitted infections, thereby empowering them to protect themselves.

Doctor Ravinder Reddy of the Guntur Government Hospital said there has been a sea change in people’s attitude towards HIV positive people. This in turn is enabling people to come out and talk about it.

C. Vasanth Kumar, the head of obstetrics & gynaecology, Guntur Medical College, said: “There is a strong prevention of the parent-to- child transmission (PPTCT) programme going on in the district.

“Due to continued efforts, the number of HIV positive deliveries in government hospitals has gone down to a great extent.”

“The network plays a crucial role in PPTCT outreach for motivating more pregnant women to access the PPTCT services and ensuring consistent follow-up of HIV positive pregnant women to ensure that deliveries take place in hospitals,” Kumar said.

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