HIV an epidemic in waiting in north India

Number of injection drug users rising

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Sonal Matharu | June 15, 2011



HIV/AIDS in north India is an epidemic in waiting as the number of injecting drug users (IDUs) is on a rise in this part of the country, said the civil society members working on HIV at the consultation meeting for north India here on Tuesday.

“In Delhi, 20 to 30 percent of all drug injectors are living with HIV. Most of them also have hepatitis C. Delhi is very vulnerable as migrants from neighbouring states come to Delhi, many of whom are homeless,” said Luke Samson, president, Indian Harm Reduction Network.

The changing trends in the entire northern India especially in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh is due to the increase in number of injection drug users. This is the initiation of an epidemic in these regions, said Dr Sundar Sundararaman, health consultant from Chennai. “It is an epidemic in waiting,” he added.

Sundararaman further said that IDUs who are HIV positive go to sex workers and may transfer the infection to them. The sex workers may then pass on the virus to men who visit them. These men can later transfer the infection to their wives. And the virus can then be transmitted from pregnant women to their unborn children.

According to National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), HIV prevalence among injection drug users is the highest at 8.71 percent. “There is a significant population living with HIV and AIDS among IDUs in four of India’s biggest cities – Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. Young people are at a greater risk, with the under-15 category accounting for 3.8 percent of all HIV infections, as against three percent in 2002,” states NACO’s website.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) is a low HIV prevalence state and hence is not on the priority list of NACO. But there are over 14 sites in UP where over 500 IDUs are identified, Samson said.

“Punjab saw a sudden spread of IDUs but it has a relatively good health system in place through which it can control the spread of deadly infections. UP on the other hand is a much poorer state and if one percent of the population of the state gets infected with HIV, it will be more than the exisiting number of HIV patients in India,” added Samson.

Another limitation which the civil society groups working in this area face is of monitoring the children who are vulnerable to the deadly virus. Most of the street children are in the habit of sniffing soft drugs and they eventually move to harder drugs.

Civil society groups working with the HIV positive people cannot reach out to them because to assist them, they have to be registered under the Juvenile Justice Act.

The two-day consultation meeting of the civil society groups in north India to get inputs for the NACP-IV saw participation from eight states namely Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

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