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Free bus rides for HIV/AIDS patients

Gangtok, July 12: The Sikkim transport department has decided to offer two free round trips to people with HIV/AIDS across the state as well as to Siliguri every month.

The facility was introduced last week.

“The initiative has been taken to encourage people with HIV/AIDS to continue their treatment. We got information that many people living with HIV/AIDS in Sikkim discontinue treatment because of the travel expenses,” said Tsegyal Tashi, the secretary of the transport department.

The one-way fare from Gangtok to Siliguri is Rs 155 and a passenger has to pay Rs 150 to travel from Geyzing in West Sikkim to Gangtok on an SNT (Sikkim Nationalised Transport) bus. According to a government notification, those affected with HIV/AIDS can take two free round trips in a month anywhere in the state and to Siliguri in all SNT buses, except deluxe and super deluxe vehicles. To avail themselves of the facility, the HIV/AIDS patient should produce a “special identity card” issued by the SNT division of the transport department.

The free trips need not be limited to treatment.

“The person should have a membership card of the Sikkim Network for Positive People (SNP+) before applying for the Special Identity Card. Anonymity will be strictly maintained,” said a senior official of the transport department.

SNP+ was formed in 2009 and has 130 members now.

According to the official, 21 Special Identity Cards have been issued last month and 17 applications were pending.

“We do not want anyone to be stigmatised so no details have been written on the card,” said the officer.

He added that bus drivers and conductors have been trained to tackle people with HIV/AIDS.

Tashi said they are also offering free bus services to old age pension card holders, ex-servicemen (above 60 years), widows of ex-servicemen (above 50 years) and physically challenged persons.

“We are happy with the move as it will help many people to continue their treatment,” said the president of the Sikkim Network of Positive People. Sikkim State Aids Control Society (SSACS) officials said 251 persons are registered with them. “SSACS had written to the transport department seeking an exemption. It will help patients who come for Anti Retro Viral Therapy to Gangtok,” said Uttam Pradhan, SSACS project director.