Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: The government will consider the plea of the counsellors of the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres to make them permanent workers, entitling them to all benefits, Health Minister M.R.K. Panneerselvam said on Tuesday.

At the valedictory meeting of the first State-level conference of ICTC counsellors, he said the petition, which was submitted to him by representatives of the counsellors, would be forwarded to the Chief Minister and the Union Ministry.

Thanks to the government’s commitment to fill vacancies in the Health Department, the State was moving from a position in which there was a scarcity of doctors and medicines to one of surplus. Congratulating all stakeholders on their efforts at reducing the HIV prevalence to 0.25 per cent as per the latest national surveillance figures, Mr. Panneerselvam said it was due, in large measure, to the efforts of the counsellors. If they made more efforts, the State could even reach a situation in which there would be no new cases.

Testing mainstreamed

Supriya Sahu, project director, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society, said there were 950 counsellors in the ICTCs, making it the largest service provider in the HIV/AIDS sector. Over the years, testing and counselling had been mainstreamed in Tamil Nadu; the proof of it lay in the large numbers of people who came forward for voluntary testing, she said. Last year, 20 lakh persons tested themselves; this year, with a month to go, the figure stood at 18 lakh. The aim was to set high counselling standards and bring all groups of people within the reach of the services. All the Central Prisons in the State had counselling and testing facilities, and the sub-jails were also networked to take the service to the prisoners. An SMS service had been started to help the counsellors, she said.

Rohini Ramamurthy, project officer, counselling, National AIDS Control Society, urged the counsellors to believe in teamwork and uphold the best ethical practices.

Bimal Charles, project director, AIDS Prevention and Control Project, said it was the first time that such a conference was taking place, with participants making presentations. Tamil Nadu was the forerunner in providing healthcare services, boasting of a large number of counsellors and mobile clinics for testing.

Devashish Dutta, technical officer, UNICEF, urged the counsellors to constantly reach higher standards.