She fights HIV in Manipur through disposable syringes

May 1st, 2008 - 12:07 pm ICT by admin  

By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) Distributing syringes among drug users may hardly seem like the right way to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. But N. Nandadevi, a Manipur resident who has been given an award for exemplary work in public health, believes it is a pragmatic solution. “If you have been working in my field long enough, you will realise that simply lecturing people is no solution to any problem,” Nandadevi told IANS while she was in the capital to receive the Adarsh Stree award given by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

“One of the major reasons for HIV transmission is intravenous drug (ID) use. While we counsel such people in their homes for free, we also distribute disposable syringes, so that at least they don’t fall prey to HIV because of shared needles,” she added.

She should know. The petite and quiet 45-year-old woman is director of the Manipur Voluntary Health Association based in Imphal.

India’s northeast is considered a high-risk zone for HIV with close to 40,000 people infected with the virus living there. India is home to 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients.

Since it lies on the edge of the heroin-producing “Golden Triangle” of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, independent estimates state that the number of regular intravenous drug users in the northeastern region is 300,000 - a key cause of HIV infection here.

Manipur is the worst hit by HIV/AIDS with more than 25,000 living with the virus.

“Youth are the most vulnerable when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Of the 25,000 infected in Manipur, more than 1,000 are children in the age group of 0-15 years,” Nandadevi said.

This go-getter woman has been working in the field of public health for more than two decades now, training more than 700 health workers, midwives and volunteers in Manipur in basic healthcare services.

“There are so many complex issues which layer around the issue of HIV/AIDS that you just can’t have one straight solution to it. For one, the level of awareness in this region is very low. Social activism, in fact, is very low here.

“People are not aware of the risks involved with intravenous drug use, they are not aware of the free first line treatment…then there is lack of finances. And of course, the law and order problem is perennial. Amid all this, working to train people, spreading awareness is a challenge,” she said.

According to Nandadevi, the districts of Surasanpur and Sandal have the most vulnerable populations in Manipur.

To do her bit in spreading awareness, Nandadevi has been sending peer educators from door to door, talking to people about HIV, distributing condoms and disposable syringes and conducting health camps for health workers and mothers.

“I have a staff of 60 people, and more than 50 percent among them are women - a fact I am very proud of. Together, we have reached across to more than 7,000 people in the community,” she said.

Saluting her work at the grassroots level and encouraging her to realise her ultimate dream - to build a home for destitute women - the CII awarded her the Adarsh Stree award, 2008, along with two others Tuesday.

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