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Indian papers (r)
May 18, 1999
AIDS watch: The Golden Triangle brings death to India
Imphal: Seven years ago, on India's frontier with the "Golden Triangle,"
young drug-user Nanao took a blood test and was advised not to get married.
But the doctor never told him why.
It was not until three years later that the young man found out he was
infected with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. "When I found out, at
first I felt like killing myself and then I felt like spreading it to as
many people as possible," he says.
"I didn't want to die alone." Nanao is one of an estimated 20,000 HIV
carriers in the remote northeastern state of Manipur, which has a
population of about two million people and sits on the doorstep of the
world's most notorious poppy-growing region.
More than 8,000 people in Manipur suffer from AIDS. The "Golden Triangle,"
one of the world's leading sources of opium and its derivative heroin, lies
between northern Thailand, Burma and Laos.
In Manipur, unlike other Indian states where HIV is transmitted mainly
through sexual contact, the virus is spread mainly through needle-sharing
by intravenous drug users. Manipur has cracked down on drug-smuggling
through Moreh, a town on the Indo-Burma border.
But still the epidemic has spread. Women get the virus from their husbands
and pass it on to their children. "Due to the nature of the epidemic, we
need a policy which is different from other states," says Dr Khomdon Singh,
project director of Manipur's State AIDS Control Society.
In 1996, the state started a harm-reduction programme for the first time in
India, which involves supplying drug users with new needles and syringes in
exchange for used ones.
The state is also encouraging HIV testing, making condoms available and
spreading awareness. Manipur, the only state in India with its own AIDS
policy. "We need aid for harm reduction, on top of awareness promotion,
and this is very difficult for the National AIDS Control Organisation and
World Bank to
understand," Dr Singh says.
Dr Singh says the measures appear to have limited growth in the number of
new, HIV-positive drug users. But much still needs to be done, especially
since secondary infections are increasing.
"We tell people to avoid pre-marital sex and insist on voluntary testing,"
Dr Singh says, adding that many young people in Manipur today prefer to
live together before marrying. Sneha Bhavan, a church-run home for
drug-using women, has 21 residents between the ages of 17 and 35.
The women, about half of whom are HIV positive, learn to live without drugs
and are taught how to sew, knit or weave to help them start a new life. But
starting over is not easy. In a state where unemployment exceeds 25 per
cent, jobs for the unskilled are scarce.
Overcoming a reputation as a drug user and living with the stigma of HIV is
a high hurdle to clear.
Genvieve Niang was addicted to drugs and was rehabilitated once, but went
back to her habit after a few years. She says she was careful not to let
others use her needle after her relapse. "I started taking drugs again out
of desperation," says 30-year-old Niang. (Reuter)
Manipur is the only State where Indo-Burma border trading is currently
taking place. On 2-10-97, the Samata party and Burmese pro-democracy group
jointly staged a demonstration in Moreh against Drug and AIDS inflow from
Burma to India. The President of Samata party pointed out that while China
and Thailand are taking harsh measures against drug, India and Burma are
not doing so.
Border trading paved the way of easy smuggling of drug, arms and AIDS
between two countries. Being deprive of enough supplies to Burmese
soldiers, they are compelled to be involved in drug trafficking.