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$10m Aussie help to prevent AIDS
- Shot in the arm for northeastern states to check HIV spread

New Delhi, March 2: An aid of Australian $10 million along with ideas drawn from Papua New Guinea and Vietnam is helping four northeastern states give thrust to prevention and “harm reduction” of HIV/AIDs.

Working with intravenous drug users and women is the focus of the joint programme on HIV and AIDS prevention and care in the northeastern states.

The Centre and the UN are partners in the project.

“I was impressed by the work of the National AIDS Control Organisation,” said the Australian government’s AIDS ambassador, Murray Proctor, who was in the country recently.

Proctor called on the National AIDS Control Organisation chief, Sujata Rao, who helped open an AusAID office in Guwahati. The project that began last year will continue till 2012.

Whereas local NGOs have been working on the project for the past few months, it was AusAID which planned its programme after a careful assessment of five states, including Assam.

Later, the programme was taken up in the most affected states of Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. All but Meghalaya have an HIV prevalence rate higher than the national average of 0.36 per cent. The donor agency is working for an integrated response to the HIV/AIDS problem in each of the four states. The “harm reduction” project will focus on prevention of the use of “infected” intravenous syringes in Mizoram. In Nagaland, it will focus on intravenous drug users and sex workers.

Australia has been working in prevention and harm reduction initiatives in western China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea as well as in Bangladesh.

Though some ideas drawn from other countries remain latent, Proctor pointed out that high-alcohol use has been observed in Papua New Guinea.

That the Northeast, too, has a high incidence of alcoholism and intravenous drug users along with high HIV prevalence is a striking similarity between the distant and culturally different regions.

AusAID is working with the Church as well as NGOs like the Naga Mothers’ Association for spreading awareness on HIV tests. These organisations are already fighting alcoholism and drug abuse in the region.

The Australians have worked specifically with intravenous drug users in China. The fact that they are providing specific assistance to Bangladesh and the government’s pressure on neighbouring Myanmar to check drug trafficking along the border has helped boost the programme, as all the states share borders either with Myanmar or Bangladesh, or with both.

Proctor said the donor agency thought of methods as diverse as micro-finance for women in the region as part of its focus on women’s vulnerability to the epidemic.

As human trafficking from the Northeast involves Nepal in a big way and contributes to the increase in female sex workers, Proctor’s visit to Nepal this month will be significant.

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