The Punjab government has launched a push back campaign against needle exchanges among addicts aiding the spread of HIV and Hepatitis infections. Post eight HIV cases that were detected in a village this month and blamed on shared syringes, the government launched an awareness advertisement that now plays in multiplexes before the start of every movie. Punjab has Rs 1.57 crore advertisement budget for awareness and control of disease in the current financial year.
Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said, “We are organising seminars at tehsil level as prevention is better than cure.” Last year, Punjab had briefly ordered a ban on syringes without prescription. But the order was immediately revoked amid criticism from all quarters.
The latest thrust in the fightback has been triggered by a case in the first week of July when a village in Sangrur reported eight HIV positive patients. The addicts admitted that they shared syringes and at times even used discarded ones lying below the Sangrur flyover. These eight also tested positive for Hepatitis C. Three other addicts only tested positive for Hepatitis C.
Deputy Medical Superintendent, Sangrur, Dr Parminder Kaur, said: “ Patients were admitted for about a week by isolating them and later they went home. Now they are regularly visiting the clinic for ART and de-addiction.” Treatment of these patients is being done free of cost.
The village meanwhile is tighlipped about the case. Kuljeet Singh, village sarpanch, said: “All the affected boys are in the range of 17-25 years. They are being treated. Our village is alert after this incident and we don’t even want to talk about this incident as it adds a stigma to our village.”
Rs 10,000 each was also given to the families of HIV positive patients initially by DC, Sangrur, from district Red Cross fund. Screening of rest of the village was, however, not done except for counselling and awareness.
Dr Gursharan Singh, Civil Surgeon, Sangrur said,”We have to protect the identity of the patient and hence we are not even disclosing the name of their village, but at the same time, we also need to protect other persons so that infection does not spread. Patients are coming for treatment to our OPD clinic.”
Health officials said not revealing the identity of the patients was contradictory to the goal of stopping the infection. “Protecting identity is important but at the same time, we need to work on how to stop infection from spreading further. Hence, NGOs need to be enrolled to keep a watch on HIV patients,” said a health worker in the area.
Dr Manpreet Chhatwal, Additional Project Director, Punjab State AIDS Control Society, said,”The Sangrur incident is alarming and in Punjab needle sharing comes out as a major reason for HIV patients apart from unsafe sex. We focus on providing awareness to masses rather than giving moral lessons.” Dr Chhatwal recalled a three-year-old incident from Faridkot jail where 40 inmates were tested for HIV out of which 30 were tested positive.
She said,”Later, it was found that needle sharing was the main reason. All of them had stolen one needle from a hospital and they used to inject opium mixed with powder.