Some years ago, Imphal had earned the dubious distinction of being called the Aids capital of India. At one point, it had a seroprevalence, higher than that of New York&’s Manhattan area. Aids first made its appearance in the state in the late 1980s, along with the No. 4 heroin invasion from the Golden Triangle when Khun Sha, chairman of the Shan state farm in Myanmar, who at one time produced 25 per cent of the world&’s total heroin output, decided to change his trade route.
Initially, he smuggled it through Thailand and from there to Europe and the USA. But upon heavy pressure from America&’s Drug Enforcement Agency he chose an Indian route through Manipur&’s border town of Moreh, 110 km from Imphal. It is said that once he even recruited a Manipur cabinet minister as one of his couriers.The spill-over effect was tragic — thousands of Manipuri youths soon got hooked to heroin.
Addicts soon graduated from sniffing the whitish powder to injecting themselves to get a bigger kick. Using hypodermic needles attached to ink droppers, they soon started sharing the needles. It is believed that Aids also came in from Myanmar, when an infected addict shared his needle with a Manipuri youth. It soon started spreading like wildfire as almost all heroin addicts of the state were intravenous drug users. The affected persons soon started spreading it to innocent women through sex and then the mothers to their children to complete the vicious circle.
According to an epidemiological survey carried out in May 2013 by the Manipur Aids Control Society , the state stood third in HIV-Aids figures in the country. There are 43,171 people with HIV (virus) in Manipur. Of them, 12,173 are women and 2,811 children. The Manipur Network of Positive People is in the forefront of the battle against Aids. Supporting them is Macs. According to the president of MNP+, L Deepak, the aim is the same as one coined by the United Nations, “Getting to zero, zero new HIV infection, zero discrimination, zero Aids-related deaths”.
But he added that getting to zero signified a push towards greater access to treatment for all. This would also provide an opportunity to address HIV1-Aids disparities, HIV-related stigma, blame and spark dialogue about stopping the spread of HIV-Aids among the population.
On the other hand, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has announced his government&’s efforts to make free HIV tests and anti-retroviral treatment available at all community primary health centres. It is literally like taking treatment to the doorsteps of everyone.
At present, free HIV tests and Anti-Retroviral Tablets are available at counters at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences and the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences at Imphal and district hospitals of Churachandpur and Thoubal.
The news that Manipurf has been relegated to the third position from being the first in the country, HIV-Aids infection-wise, may be heartening for the state, but much more needs to be done, especially at Macs, which, of late, has been reduced to a den of corruption, an arena where easy money can be made. This must be halted at once so that people living with no hope initially can now survive with a glimmer of possibility.
(The writer is the Imphal-based special correspondent of The Statesman)