Community participation is essential for implementing any large-scale health intervention programme, M.S. Swaminathan, chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, has said.

When HIV/AIDS first came to the country, it was diagnosed in Chennai. India was part of the countries affected by the second wave of the epidemic, the first being African nations. In Africa, with the rampant spread of the infection, economic growth rate plummeted, agriculture production dropped and average life span came down to 40-45 years.

He was speaking at the inaugural of a Southern Regional Conference – Role of rural NGOs in transforming health care – organised jointly by the AIDS Prevention and Control Project (APAC), Voluntary Health Services and the Confederation of NGOs of Rural India (CNRI).

To the credit of the workers in the HIV segment of the country, early on in the epidemic, they identified the methodologies of approach and intervention. Social mobilisation, involving the community in understanding the nature of the disease and battling it, and appropriate medical intervention (food and drug-based approach) were the key aspects of the strategy.

Recounting the experience of his father, who was a doctor in Kumbakonam, in eradicating filariasis within a year from the town, Dr. Swaminathan said it could not have been possible without the commitment and participation of the local community.

Earlier, he distributed Meritorious Service Awards to NGOs working in the sector. The awardees included the PACHE Trust and Community Action for Social Transformation. The following NGOs were appreciated for their service: Empower, Indian Community Welfare Organisation, Centre for Social Reconstruction, Scientific Educational Development for Community Organisation, Association for Rural Mass India and Rural Integrated Development Organisation.

Shambu Kallolikar, project director, TANSACS, released publications brought out by APAC and commended the organisation for its contributions.

The Society had built a very successful model to combat HIV that was being appreciated throughout the world. However, there were gaps in health care delivery, which needed to be filled.

L.V. Saptharishi, co-chairman, CNRI, said in order for the intervention efforts to be sustainable, it was important for them to incorporate concepts of social regeneration and economic resurgence. The dissemination programme would also be taken to other zones in the country, in order for those NGOs to take the positive lessons from Tamil Nadu's experience.

E.S. Krishnamoorthy, honorary secretary, VHS, stressed on the need for the corporate sector, government and NGOs collaborating in delivering health care.

An institution, Community Health Alliance for Research Training Empowerment and Resource Development, will be started to address health care issues using the APAC model, networking with NGOs.

Bimal Charles, project director, APAC, said the workshop was an effort to disseminate widely the success stories of the organisation that was functioning for the last 15 years.