The world aims at ending the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic by 2030 and new infections have declined drastically over the years but it still continues to be a major health problem with UNAIDS’ data for 2016 revealing an estimated 36.7 million people living with HIV globally, out of which 1.8 million were newly infected, and 1.0 million AIDS-related deaths. India is also one of the signatories of UNAIDS’ programme to eradicate AIDS epidemic but the figures released by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) have indicated that the battle is not going to be easy.
NACO’s HIV Estimations 2017 has revealed that national adult (15–49 years) HIV prevalence has declined from 0.26 percent in 2015 to 0.22 percent last year from an estimate 0.26 percent in 2015. About 21.40 lakh people in India are living with HIV, out of which 87.58 thousand were newly infected with HIV and 69.11 thousand AIDS-related deaths were reported in 2017. While the spread of the virus is under control in most part of the country, some northeastern states have not shown a significant improvement with Mizoram having the highest adult HIV prevalence in 2017 with 2.04 percent, followed by Manipur with 1.43 percent, and Nagaland with 1.15 percent. What is more alarming is that Mizoram has spiked in new infections, while Manipur and Nagaland saw only marginal decline over the years despite numerous awareness programmes and increase in literacy rate. Other northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Meghalaya have witnessed an increase in new infection according to the 2017 data but the number is low compared to other states.
Nagaland recorded 1,232 new HIV infections (41 percent women) of the total 17,029 people living HIV, 537 AIDS-related deaths (29 percent women) and 237 prevention of mother-to-child transmission in 2017. New infection of the virus has declined by just 3 percent (11,050 new infections in 2015) and the figures are consistently hovering above 1 percent for years now after peaking in 2002 and 2003, which is a matter of worry. The report by NACO has revealed that the primary cause of HIV infection in Nagaland is sexual relationship – through female sex workers (FSW) to be precise, while the transmission of the virus is mostly through injecting drug users (IDU) in other states. The study has clearly indicated that AIDS awareness programmes among the adults all these years have failed to make much difference. The social stigma and discrimination surrounding people living with HIV and AIDS may not make the fight against the virus any easier but keeping mum as though all is well can cost our society dear. Many parents may find it difficult to talk about the need of safe sex and other personal issues with their children, and some may even assume that they will not go wrong but this ‘holier-than-thou’ approach can act as a trap for the future generation. Young people needs sex education more than adults do. Protection is better than cure.