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Babus just can’t cope
How AIDS battle is being lost
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 20
Can overburdened babus handle AIDS control programmes? Well, in India they can, even if they have no skill or time to give a push to the programme. And when it comes to saddling bureaucrats with additional responsibility of crucial departments like AIDS Control, state governments just won’t budge — not even when health ministry warns them of blocking the World Bank aid if they fail to appoint “full-time project directors of State AIDS Control Societies (SACS), with at least 10 years experience in the field.”

Shockingly, despite the ultimatum, most states and UTs, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh included, continue to violate National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO) terms for receiving global aid to run National AIDS Control Programme — NACP III.

Even after signing letters of understanding (LOUs) with the Government of India and promising to honour the conditions, 70 per cent states are ignoring the NACO guideline of posting “full time project directors at SACS” — a condition critical to the success of AIDS control programme. India houses about 5.7 million — the highest HIV-infected population —in the world.

North of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh don’t have independent project directors for SACS. In Punjab, secretary, health, KBS Sidhu, with umpteen jobs to do, has been burdened with the additional charge of SACS.

In Haryana, director-general, health services, Dr Avinash Sharma, responsible for health administration of the entire state, is officiating as SACS project director. The Chandigarh administration recently posted deputy commissioner R.K. Rao as SACS project director, least bothered if he had the requisite experience or the time to handle the post. Most serving project directors have no field experience in HIV.

All this is happening despite NACO’s stress on having independent SACS heads. On July 16, NACO director- general Sujatha Rao warned the states that if they were unable to find full-time directors for SACS, they could, at the most, place National Rural Health Missions directors as additional in charges. She clarified that overburdened bureaucrats as SACS heads were unacceptable. Yet the states are not heeding, compromising the success of the just-launched NACP III and risking the release of subsequent World Bank grant. The World Bank has given NACO 250 million US dollars for AIDS control in the first three years of NACP III (2007 to 2012).

A policy document of the health ministry, in possession of The Tribune, reveals NACO’s concerns. In “Strategy and Implementation Plan for NACP III”, NACO think tank writes: “Frequent changes of project directors of SACS weakened the thrust and focus of HIV/AIDS interventions. In some highly vulnerable states, project directors were either saddled with additional non-HIV responsibilities or given SACS charge as additional responsibility. Most key positions remained vacant. These factors caused uneven implementation of the programme. It is necessary to have policy safeguards against this trend.”

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