From Teresa Rehman, who attended a "Reporting HIV/Aids" course in Nairobi in 2009
Gauhati, Assam - Runima, an HIV-positive woman, must journey 45 km to the nearest ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) centre to procure the life-saving drugs. A widow with two children, she found it hard to meet the travel costs.
But now Himanta Biswa Sarma, health minister of Assam state in northeast India, has stepped in. Concerned by the plight of poor people living with HIV/Aids (PLWA) in remote areas, Sarma has ensured that the cost of transportation to the ART centres and the laboratory investigations are borne by the state.
The health minister is an active HIV/Aids campaigner who has been taking innovative steps to help PHLAs. Assam has about 4,000 registered HIV positive people out of a total of 45,000 in the whole of northeast India. Authorities fear the disease may spread because of the region’s acute drug problem. The northeastern region borders the heroin-producing Golden Triangle of Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand and has high rates of intravenous drug use - a prime cause of HIV infection here.
Sarma has also moved to offset the long distances between ART centres, where Anti-retroviral drugs are provided free. Assam's first ART centre was set up in 2005 at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital. Two other ART Centres are located in the Assam Medical College and Silchar Medical College. But now "Link" ART centres have been set up in district hospitals located at a convenient distance, making travel easier for PLHAs. The number of patients on ART drugs has increased from 171 in 2006-07 to 792 in 2009-10.
Sarma has also stepped into the blood-donor issue, about which there is much ignorance here. As well as setting up more and more blood banks supported by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the health minister has taken novel steps to motivate organisations and institutions working in the field of Voluntary Blood Donation. At his behest, the state AIDS Control Society honours 10 best performing organisations on National Blood Donation Day (October 1).
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