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Mizoram: HIV funds withheld for five months, frontline workers warn of surge in new infections

The state treasury has a daily withdrawal ceiling and funds for combating HIV are apparently not on the priority list.

Healthcare providers working to stem the spread of HIV in a state with the second-highest prevalence rate in India have warned of a potential surge in new infections as the state government has withheld funds for five months, leading to massive cut-backs in operations such as distribution of syringes to drug addicts, handing out condoms and facilitating blood tests.

“There is definitely going to be a surge in HIV positive cases in a few months from now as more and more people get tested for the virus,” warned John Thansanga, who heads an umbrella group of healthcare providers that directly deal with Mizoram’s HIV patients and high-risk populations, including intravenous drug-users, homosexuals, sex-workers and informal migrant workers.

The umbrella grouping consists of 37 organisations which are at the frontline of the state’s AIDS control society’s fight against HIV.

A vast majority have already scaled down their operations while many have reported they are being asked to vacate their centres because
they are unable to pay their rent while workers and staff are owed up to five months’ salaries, John Thansanga said, adding most are unable to get anymore credit since they have been unable to repay earlier ones.

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This means free fresh syringes are beyond the reach of a huge percentage of the more than 12,500 intravenous drug users being treated by these centres, while more than an equal number of sex-workers, informal migrant workers and homosexuals are not being sufficiently provided condoms.

This shortage of protective paraphernalia means it is not just HIV but different kinds of hepatitis, sexually-transmitted diseases and other ailments spread through exchange of blood that are at risk of being contracted by many others.

“It’s a public health issue that is not limited just to HIV,” John Thansanga said.

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His colleague, Lalrinawma Chhakchhuak, explained the squeeze in operations has been set off because the cash-strapped Mizoram government is yet to release Rs 820.32 lakhs that has already been transferred to the state by NACO.

The state treasury has a daily withdrawal ceiling and funds for combating HIV are apparently not on the priority list as the government continues to struggle with a lack of finances that has hung over the state for several years now.

Officials from the Mizoram State Aids Control Society, who declined to be named, admitted the nodal agency has not received the funds from the state government for the past five months and therefore could not disburse them to the frontline organisations.

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“Right now even we are in the same boat. We’re all broke,” said one senior official.

Among Indian states, Mizoram is officially believed to be second only to Nagaland when it comes to HIV prevalence rates, which is juxtaposed by accounting for the percentage of women attending antenatal clinics who are found to be infected with the virus.

First published on: 29-01-2015 at 08:27:44 pm
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