M A I N   N E W S

Plan to tackle HIV along highways
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 15
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is working out a strategy to combat HIV/AIDS by addressing the vulnerability of people and groups travelling along major highways.

The objective of the project, part of NHAI’s social responsibility programme, is to target migrant population known to be at greater HIV risk due to the impact of multiple factors.

These include non-conducive atmosphere, poor family support, poor access to healthcare, unsafe sex and easy access to brothels that have come to dot several highways.

Taking advantage of its natural reach and sphere of influence, the NHAI is planning to launch a massive programme to prevent/control HIV infection and trafficking along some of the highways by addressing risk factors among mobile populations.

The group sought to be covered under the project comprises temporary migrants like truck drivers, tourists, illegal migrants, female sex workers, cleaners, brothel inmates, contractual workers, among others.

The project is inspired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stress on mainstreaming HIV/AIDS — an issue that now forms an integral part of the National AIDS Control Policy-III.

Furthermore, it draws from international surveys that show linkages between migration and HIV prevalence. There is growing evidence to suggest that countries with higher migrant/mobile populations also have higher HIV prevalence.

The NHAI, for its part, proposes to map and cover 65,000 km of Indian roads with specific objective to prevent HIV/AIDS along these stretches and spread awareness about it.

Logic behind the project is simple: “HIV/AIDS moves along highways just as high-risk groups like truckers, trafficked women and sex workers do.”

In the first phase, it proposes to cover a 102-km stretch along the National Highway-15 in Punjab (Pathankot-Amritsar).

Other highways that form part of the project area are: NH-2 (Delhi-Kolkata), NH-28, NH-26 (Lalitpur stretch in Uttar Pradesh), NH-7 (Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka), NHs 76 and 35.

The project has been conceptualised following the National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO) commitment of mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS by involving Union ministries.

Support of 31 ministries has been sought to achieve the objective that is a key mandate under the National AIDS Control Policy-III.

The ministries are reportedly committing their support to the cause following Prime Minister’s February-16 statement.

He said: “HIV/AIDS must move out of the narrow confines of the Health Department.”

He also desired AIDS control programmes to be community-driven rather than donor-driven.

So far, the Ministry of Railways has come up in a big way to address the mainstreaming objective.

It proposes to use its own health infrastructure to combat HIV/AIDS, besides setting up integrated counselling and testing centres at important railway junctions.

The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Youth and Sports are already working in the direction, the latter fighting HIV under its YUVA (Youth Unite against HIV/AIDS) programme for which Rs 400 crore has been set aside for five years.

The NHAI is also pitching in. HIV/AIDS cell at its headquarters. A senior NHAI official told The Tribune: “The proposal is yet to take shape but we are in the process of identifying stakeholders. The idea is to integrate HIV/AIDS information, education, communication and counselling services and provide them through Comprehensive Wayside Amenities Centres located along highways.

“Toll plazas will be roped in and tickets issued from these plazas might have HIV awareness messages written on them.”

Meanwhile, the NHAI plans to meet stakeholders, including truckers associations and construction contractors, to work out modalities of the proposal, which is likely to be passed only once the NACP-III document is finalised.

The proposal, in itself, is quite broad-based. It is even looking at setting up of condom vending machines along the highways. Surveys are on to identify condom depot holders that can facilitate social marketing of condoms.

Some major players along the highways like the HPCL have reportedly expressed interest in partnering with the NHAI on the project, which will ultimately be implemented through state governments and state AIDS control societies.

The HPCL, sources say, has approached the NHAI with the proposal of exploring the possibility of training two employees on each of their petrol stations located along NH-2 and NH-8 as peer educators in HIV/AIDS.



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