GUWAHATI — Government agencies have recognized the Churches in Northeast India as an essential and inevitable contributor in controlling and mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS says research scholar from the region.
Assistant Professor at the School of Social Sciences at AssamDonBoscoUniversity Mr Phungreiso Varu made the claim while presenting a paper at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific last week in Bangkok.
The scholar from Manipur says, “The policy effort to engage Churches as key partners in implementing HIV and AIDS program, nationally or regionally is, henceforth unavoidable.”
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The HIV epidemic in the North East India is largely driven by use of HIV infected syringes and needles by injecting drug users (IDUs) and increasing transmission of HIV through sexual mode.
Its proximity to the golden triangle (Myanmar, Laos and Thailand) and drug trafficking routes, a large number of drug users with high prevalence of injecting and sharing practices, interface of drug use and sex work and low usage of condoms across the region have contributed to an exceptional rise in cases of HIV and AIDS.
Among the North Eastern states, Manipur has shown the highest estimated adult HIV prevalence of 1.22%, followed by Mizoram (0.74%) and Nagaland (0.73%).
The region estimates a total of 63,049 HIV infected people, the highest being in the state of Manipur (25, 369) and the lowest in Sikkim (539).
Three percent of Indias HIV positive cases come from the northeast states of Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland, which has only 4% of the countrys total population.
Initially the Churches “were reluctant to respond to HIV/AIDS intervention considering the high prevalence and pressing needs of the region.”
However, churches in the region faced new challenges where HIV/AIDS pandemic claimed the lives of many congregations’ members during the last few years. Realizing the impact and importance of addressing HIV, the churches responded and played significant role in HIV prevention, providing care and support as service-provider in partnership with various government and civil groups.
The scholar further asserts, “Given the significance of these statistics and the importance of addressing HIV and AIDS issue, the government is increasingly showing commitment towards greater participation of churches, civil societies and leaders of communities.”
Today, the Churches have established a strategic partnership with state government (Health and Family Welfare and other related Departments).
In turn, Government and Civil Societies equipped the church leaders and pastors to respond to the HIV and AIDS challenges, and advocacy to build relationship with local churches and its congregation members by organized awareness campaigns in church functions and community festivals.
Churches initiated seminars and salvation camps for youth and Sunday school students with training conducted for church leaders and youth in the program management of HIV and AIDS issues.
The churches operate CommunityCareCenter and support people Living with HIV, especially women and orphans (spiritually, physically and financially) with assistance from NACO, Government of India.
Besides integrating HIV/AIDS teaching as an integral part of religious preaching, Churches developed behavior change communication resources and disseminated them.
In the recent years, some 2000 youths and 1,000 women were trained on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support while reducing stigma and discrimination programs.
Ten Christian groups have initiated their own health ministry, counseling centers, income Generation Program and imparted skill trainings to support PLHIV and disadvantage population especially women.
They were able to help some 70 orphans and 200 widows infected and affected by HIV.