OPINION

A pioneering effort on HIV

In another pioneering effort to battle the HIV epidemic, the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TNSACS) has launched a fleet of 10 vans that will take HIV counselling and testing facilities to the doorsteps of the vulnerable people. With the infection no longer confined to the high-risk groups, efforts are being made to motivate the general population — apart from those belonging to the bridge population, such as the clients of sex workers, and the high-risk category — to get tested. The accent in recent years has therefore been on increasing the number of testing centres. As shown by Brazil years ago, access to free medicines changed people’s perception of the infection and prompted them to get tested voluntarily. There is thus an even greater compulsion to enlarge the coverage of testing facility. How serious is the Tamil government in making the counselling and testing facilities widely available is revealed by its plans to increase the number of public health centres working round the clock — and providing such facilities — from 780 to nearly 1,000. With the number of people getting tested rising steadily over the past few years in the State — 15 lakhs this year as compared to 10.4 lakhs last year and 7.1 lakhs in 2005 at the 760 integrated counselling and testing centres spread across the State — the latest initiative will cater to those sections of the society that have not been covered so far.

The client load — the number of people getting tested at a centre in a day — has gone up from 6-7 last year to 12 this year, making Tamil Nadu the number one State in the country. Despite this encouraging trend, the need for creating greater awareness of this critical issue cannot be overemphasised, given that there are still a large number of people who are unaware of their infection. If fear and denial hold back people from knowing their status at an early stage of infection, these should be overcome by effectively communicating the advantages that include delayed onset of AIDS through changed lifestyles and fewer chances of infecting others. In line with the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) Phase III, the mobile HIV testing centres will also conduct other tests such as for diabetes and anaemia. The focus is on making HIV testing a mainstream activity and not a stand alone exercise so that more people can get tested. Such proactive measures have gone a long way in reducing the prevalence rate from 1.13 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population in 2000 to 0.38 per cent last year, which is the lowest among the four high-prevalence States.

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