DIMAPUR, OCTOBER 29 : The first prison HIV-intervention program in Nagaland has been introduced on Saturday at the Dimapur Central Jail. The intervention project is an initiative of the Community Awareness and Development (CAD) Foundation, in collaboration with the Nagaland State AIDS Control Society (NSACS) and the fhi360 (formerly Family Health International).
Though information about the exact number of inmates currently serving time inside the Central Jail could not be obtained, it was suggested that the figure normally fluctuates between 140 and 150. According to the HIV Sentinel Surveillance (HSS) 2014-15 data, Nagaland continues to top in the HIV general prevalence rate in the country with 1.29% and ranks the third in adult prevalence rate at 0.78%
Nagaland is the first state in the country to record an overall prevalence of more than 1% among Antenatal Clinic (ANC) clients. The first HIV and AIDS positive case in Nagaland was detected in the year 1990, according to the NSACS’s website.
“In view of the current status of HIV in the state, where our state is ranked number one in terms of HIV prevalence in the country, the future appears gloomy. It is a concern to see the increasing rate at which HIV is spreading in the state in spite of the tremendous efforts undertaken by Nagaland State AIDS Control Society and all concerned stakeholders,” said minister for Health & Family Welfare, P Longon who launched the programme.
“I would like to applaud and appreciate the efforts made by all. However, I feel that more efforts need to be made from all quarters to address the issue. I am happy to learn that NACO has identified the need to roll out Prison Intervention as we are aware that many of the inmates may fall within the category of High Risk Group, vulnerable to HIV and also need care and treatment.”
According to Longon, the need for such a programme for the inmates was long felt: “I believe that the Intervention would be able to address the gaps in HIV service delivery inside the prison and all HIV patients will be able to receive treatments which are given free of cost and enhance their quality of life.”
He said that “stigma and discrimination still prevails and thus we are yet to create an enabling environment” for people living with HIV and AIDS to access the different facilities provided by the government.
The minister appealed all to understand the various issues and aspects of the “disease”. He added: “We need to make use of the different platforms that we have at our own disposal and make HIV/AIDS a priority. By this, we ensure that those who are infected today are provided the best available treatment and further stops the spreading of the virus to those who are not infected.”
Longon hoped that through the intervention programme, the required treatment and care of “HIV patients” inside the prison would be fully addressed “and also the continuity is ensured by stakeholders outside of the Prison once they are release (d).”
On the occasion, the president of Network of Nagaland Drugs and AIDS Organisation (NNagaDAO), Abou Mere suggested that Nagaland should discard the Assam Jail Manual which is currently applied in all prisons in Nagaland. “We should have our own prison manual,” he said, adding “no prison inmates should be discriminated on health grounds”.
That the NSACS has been initiating workshops to sensitize the media personnel on HIV and AIDS related reportage is timely and welcomed. One such programme was held at Kohima on Friday where an NSACS official was reported to have reminded the journalists to follow of the Press Council India guideline and dos and don’ts on HIV and AIDS reporting.
Indeed, the Press Council India offers a 10-page guideline on HIV and AIDS news reporting that includes a section on terminology guideline as approved by the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). The NSACS official has rightly listed, “HIV/AIDS, AIDS Victims, HIV Virus, deadly disease, AIDS patients, prostitute or commercial sex workers” as incorrect terms.
The media, at least in the case of Eastern Mirror, welcomes such timely reminders from the NSACS because we are all in this fight together. It is in this spirit that we, however, must point out that the NSACS seems to have forgotten to sensitize its department, and the minister in charge of Health and Family Welfare under which NSACS function.
While the UNAIDS guideline discourages the use of “HIV/AIDS” (should be HIV and AIDS, since HIV is not synonymous with the latter) – as quite correctly pointed out by the official on Friday – it is worth noting that the NSACS website is still using the term “HIV/AIDS”.
Even on Saturday, while speaking at the launch of prison HIV intervention project, the minister of Health and Family Welfare, P Longon kept using “HIV patients”, while as per UNAIDS guideline it should have been people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIVs).
He also called HIV a “disease”, when as per the same guideline, HIV is a virus. Again, the minister used “HIV/AIDS” in his speech. On this evidence, NSACS could do well to sensitize its personnel on the correct use of terms – starting from the minister.
This is not to pick fight with the agency, which has been doing a marvellous job, but simply to point out what appears to be an oversight. After all, as asserted earlier, we are all in this together.