Dec. 1: The government reeled out figures showing a spurt in the number of HIV positive cases in the state and sex workers at Sonagachhi narrated at a programme their experience of seeing colleagues die of the disease on World AIDS Day.
“From 500 HIV positive cases about a couple of years ago, the figure has gone up to 5,000,” director of medical education C.R. Maiti said at Writers’ Buildings. There are 1,800 full-blown cases now. There were five to eight a couple of years ago.
“But we need not panic because it does not necessarily indicate that this is the exact rate of increase,” Maiti said. “For that, we have to find out if other reasons could have contributed to this increase, which appears alarming. The government has learnt that the rate of detection used to be very low. So, even if there were HIV positive cases, the exact figure did not come out,” he added.
Still, the assistance available for HIV-AIDS patients — in terms of available diagnostic facilities and awareness programmes — falls far short of necessity. The scene has improved over the past few years, claimed the director of medical education.
Meena Das spoke about her friends’ encounters with AIDS at the programme organised by a voluntary organisation at Darji Para Park, in which more than 100 women from Calcutta’s busiest red-light area participated.
Medical practitioners, politicians and social workers spoke at length about AIDS and its prevention but those most vulnerable to the dreaded disease stole the show. Sex workers sang and danced on the occasion and school students enacted a play to raise AIDS awareness among the sex workers.
When Swati Biswas, a sex worker, spoke about her daughter who is married to an armyman and son who goes to school, the benefits of awareness were apparent.
Maiti attributed the increased detection of HIV positive cases to “increased awareness and more facilities for tests now available across the state”.
“There are 19 voluntary counselling and testing centres in Bengal. We hope to increase the number of such centres to 32 by the end of next year,” said Maiti.