A month-long HIV testing drive is to be launched in Tripura, starting Monday, December 13, considering the high number of HIV/AIDS cases in the North Eastern states of India. CM Biplab Kumar Deb announced the same in his address at Pragna Bhavan on World AIDS Day, December 1.

According to the CM, “The figures are indicative of an alarming future.” Data released by the TSACS (Tripura State AIDS Control Society), since the last 20 years shows that Tripura has about 2459 positive cases of AIDS, of which 750 cases are female and 1079 male patients. During this period, the state has seen a total of 640 deaths due to AIDS.

The following figures were revealed by the TSACS data, with regard to the number of HIV patients currently in the various districts - North Tripura district had 594 cases, West Tripura district had 564, Dhalai district had 408, 261 in Unakoti district, 188 in Khowai, 183 in Gomati, 137 in Sepahijala, and 109 in South Tripura. Additionally, there are 15 positive cases among non-citizens residing in Tripura.

Deb announced the slogan ‘No Place for Drugs, No Place for HIV,’ at this event, asking for all stakeholders to take an active role in combating this wave in Tripura.

The CM has also asked for a National standard drug rehabilitation centre to be set up in North Tripura. This year, 300 injectable drug users in Tripura have tested positive for this contagion.

“The number of cases related to HIV have risen in Tripura. Mostly, they are cases of intravenous drug use - IDU,” confirmed Dr. Radha Debbarma, Project Director, TSACS. This additional charge was given to her on September 20, on top of her long held duty as Director of Family Welfare and Preventive Medicine. “Maximum are from the young generation, 15-30 years,” she told The Citizen.

“Our statistics have revealed that the positive cases of IDU include school students as well as college students. The school students are few,” she said.

“We had earlier implemented awareness programmes wherein teachers were trained to teach students about HIV/AIDS awareness. These need to be carried out properly, so that the dangerous side-effects of the contagion can be communicated - especially regarding the spread of HIV through IDUs.”

“The Health Department can only take action and provide treatment, but in the schools and colleges, the prevention part of it needs to be stressed,” she added.

Dr. Debbarma explained that the STDs are being transmitted due to shared syringes. “They are using single syringes to take the drugs.” She said that TSACS also provides OST (Opioid Substitution Therapy) for users.

About the OST centres Dr. Debbarma said, “We have 9 centres so far. Five are already in operation, 4 are underway, and we have received approval for five more.”

“The Health Department alone cannot stem this growth in positive cases,” she said. “Those supplying these drugs need to be apprehended, and for that the law enforcement is required. The Health Department cannot do that,” she said. CM Biplab Kumar Deb in his speech on World AIDS Day had also said, “The routes of drugs should be identified. If needed the police can be asked for cooperation.”

Regarding the consistent growth since the past 20 years, Dr. Debbarma pointed out that the rise in the number of positive cases can also be attributed to the rise in the number of tests being conducted, since the number of centres and preventive programs have also increased in that time.

She said that it has been made mandatory for all pregnant women to take an HIV test. “We have near about 40,000 pregnant women yearly. We have implemented such rules - we even had a prison testing drive, we have targets for mass screenings.” Dr. Debbarma pointed out that the TSACS is planning to identify the geographical pockets reporting the most number of cases and target them first.