M A I N   N E W S

AIDS and Punjab-I
HIV bomb ticking in Ludhiana
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, November 20
Ludhiana — India’s most innovative city, known throughout the world for its ingenuity — is making news for all the wrong reasons. The number of suspected and confirmed HIV positive cases here has puts the city into a category that can be classified as the one facing an “HIV epidemic”. The first-ever survey conducted to ascertain the extent of HIV infection in the region puts the city high up in the list. The exact position will however be known after the results of the survey are tabulated later this month.

Initial results are very disturbing as the city has scored very high in terms of prevalence of HIV among the Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs) and Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs). This town reportedly has the largest number of CSWs in the state.

Investigations by The Tribune have revealed that free exchange of needles by drugs users and unabated prostitution in more than half a dozen localities has accelerated the spread of the disease. Apart from industrial workers, many migrant workers visiting these CSWs have tested positive.

The first case of HIV was diagnosed in India in 1986. But 20-years later, Punjab has no idea about the extent of spread of the infection among its people. Punjab recently has participated in the ongoing NACO -sponsored sentinel surveillance that collected blood samples to test the HIV virus among the high-risk population. After the results are compiled later this month, for the first time authentic data will be available on HIV/AIDS-infected persons in the state.

The situation can be gauged from the fact that out of 48 blood samples taken from IDUs in Ludhiana, 16 have tested positive. As per NACO and UNAIDS guidelines, in random sampling if more than 5 per cent cases are reported in the high-risk category and over 1 per cent in general population the situation can be termed as an epidemic. According to unofficial results, Ludhiana is heading to be the first city in the state to achieve this dubious distinction.

Social workers like Mr Paramjit Singh, working for an NGO in the city, that spreads awareness about the disease feels that over 30 per cent of the 400 CSWs, whose blood samples have been taken, are likely to test positive because of their association with people known to carry the HIV virus. The city has a large number of CSWs who are also IDUs and share needles with the group that have been detected HIV positive.

Areas around Rahon Road and Jamalpur abound with CSWs, who charge prices ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 200. In an impromptu interaction, Nita (name changed), a CSW said, “Frequent holding of camps by NGOs have made other CSW marginally aware of the disease. Many women have no knowledge of the disease, and willingly accept clients who do not wish to use a condom for an extra charge of Rs 50”, she said.

The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the fact that the Punjab State AIDS Control Society had asked a local NGO to identify 40 IDUs, 250 CSWs and 20 MSM (men having sex with men) over a period of three-months . In less than 2 months, the NGO had identified 256 CSWs, 54 IDUs and spotted many more who are willing to acknowledge their activities. Incidentally, contrary to belief, the number of MSMs in the city appears to be lower than the expected figures. It is now known that 16 out of 48 IDUs have tested HIV positive, for 7 out of 21 MSM and nearly 25 per cent of the 256 CSWs tested are likely to be HIV positive.

Examples cited by workers from NGOs, who did not wish to be named, revealed that it was generally the men who took to drugs to escape problems of life. Once addicted, they become incapable of supporting their families and in order to feed children, the women take to prostitution. In some cases, the women too get hooked on to drugs to escape from reality. HIV IDUs infect other IDUs, when they share needles. Once these IDUs get intoxicated, they visit CSWs and infect them. At some level they are interacting with one another.

Among the group of IDUs that are high up on the list of HIV infected, there is a 12-year-old and two 14-year olds, who are addicted to two doses of drugs - a combination of avil and morphine(12mg) or an equal strength of diazepam. Once the test results of 356 samples taken earlier this month are available, those who test HIV positive will be put to CD 4 testing to determine their AIDS status. So far, health authorities are unaware if there is any full blown case of AIDS in the city or in its vicinity.

In the past 2 months 23 HIV/AIDS awareness camps have been held in the city’s high prevalence areas like Chauni Mohalla, vicinity of Chand Cinema, Shimla Puri, Jawhar Nagar, Bus Stand, Dr. Ambedkar Nagar, Samrala Chowk, Transport Chowk, Tajpur Road, Tibba Road, Sherpur by-pass etc. Around 400 CSWs so far have been identified.

There are many like Bhagat (name changed), whose only vocation is to act like a pimp and solicit clients for their wives, daughters and even sisters. According to Rajan (name changed), a social worker, actively involved with an NGO says that roughly 40 per cent CSWs use the services of procuress or male pimps due to competition.

The relationship between IDUs, CSWs and HIV is well established. Yet despite being illegal, many small shops openly sell drugs in the city. A particular shop on the Tajpur Road makes avil, morphine combination and makes it available along with a syringe and a needle for Rs 35 right under the nose of the police deployed outside the shop. Incidentally, the Tajpur police station too is near by.

Connivance or indifference? In either case it has put the city to deep trouble.



HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |