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India to help its tribal population tackle HIV threat

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt, IANS,

New Delhi : India’s largely poor and socially underprivileged tribals are about to get help in combating HIV and AIDS, a disease they are highly vulnerable to because of growing migration and lack of awareness.

“The tribal population has become more vulnerable to HIV in the past few years. As they are down in the social ladder, they are unable to avail themselves of the facilities,” K. Sujatha Rao, chief of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), told IANS.

“Tribal areas face the problem of lack of access to health facilities and information. We are planning a tribal action plan for them that will just focus on them.”

NACO formulates policy and implements programmes for the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS.

There are an estimated 70 million tribals in India spread over 575 communities constituting over eight percent of the total population. The country has 192 Integrated Tribal Development Areas, of which 65 – about a third – fall in high HIV prevalence districts, according to NACO.

“This shows that they are becoming more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. We are concerned about them,” she said.

She said tribal people were moving to big cities and towns in search of jobs.

“In cities, they face exploitation. We need to target them and create more awareness among them,” said Rao, who last week took charge as union health secretary.

“We want to work more with the community and integrate them with health services. We want to protect them so that the problem does not become big in future,” she added.

NACO is also planning to conduct a survey to confirm how many tribals need to be covered under this plan. An estimated 2.3 million people have HIV in India.

NACO’s joint director Mayank Aggarwal said the body has earmarked Rs.500,000 per tribal area.

“They are more vulnerable because they are not literate and work in mining or industrial units,” Aggarwal told IANS.

According to the plan, NACO will train traditional healers so that they can refer those affected with HIV to government centres.

“We plan to counsel them (traditional healers) and provide them with condoms. They are the ones who are sought after in tribal areas. If they are knowledgeable, they will be able to direct and help out people,” he added.

Aggarwal said the tribal ministry is the nodal organisation for this project.

“Under the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) and Modified Area Development Approach, hostel facilities will be provided to Scheduled Caste children who were orphaned by AIDS or whose parents are too ill to provide them the necessary care,” he said.

Also, they have planned to train trainers, officers and healthcare providers on HIV and AIDS.

“Training will be given to those working at all tribal research institutes so that they can act as the apex centre for HIV prevention for tribal populations,” he added.

A comprehensive mapping of HIV-related vulnerabilities like migration and high-risk behaviour in the tribal community is also being planned.

Also, people will be targeted in tribal markets so that they know about HIV.

“We can easily reach out to them during these markets and fairs. We also plan special outreach programmes through mobile clinics in tribal areas,” Aggarwal added.

(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at [email protected])