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Preventing drug abuse, HIV in northeast India

Oct 05, 2010

A centre to prevent HIV by motivating people to go for testing and commit to safe sex practices has been started in the north-eastern state of Manipur. Those who wish to give up drugs are counselled and provided therapies for the same.

Moreh (Manipur): Unlike other places along the international borders, Moreh is most of the time buzzing with activity. The movement of people to and from Myanmar keeps the residents here on their toes.

Some are into hectic trading while there are many who make money out of drug peddling. But then, there are also others who are committed to helping people come out of their drug use habits and encourage harm reduction methods among drug users. One such joint is a drop-in centre close to the international border, where nationality and language is no barrier.

Drug users from Myanmar are regular visitors to this centre run by Dedicated Peoples Union (DPU) which is funded by ORCHID (organised response for comprehensive HIV intervention in selected high prevalence districts of Manipur and Nagaland). This is perhaps one of the most crowded drop-in centres of the region where at least 120 drug users come to take fresh syringes and condoms every day. “It is a sort of recreation centre for drug users who are also counselled and motivated to go in for voluntary HIV tests,” says Nishikanta, deputy director of DPU.

The number of abscess cases has gone down ever since the syringe exchange programme was initiated by the State and the target now is to prevent HIV by motivating them to go for testing and safe sex practices.

There were several who want to give up but did not know how to go about it. “Maybe Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) - an alternative that reduces drug abuse and overdose and other infections - could be the answer,” says Mr. Nishikanta.

The National Aids Control Organisation has initiated OST at nine centres in Manipur, wherein heroin and spasmoproxyvon is replaced by buprenorphine which is given orally and hence reduces infections and abscesses and counselling at these centres helps people give up drugs for good.

A large number of visitors at this drop-in centre have gone for voluntary testing at the local hospital and detected to be HIV-positive. While the Indians are put on free anti-retroviral therapy treatment (ART), those from Myanmar do not get such facility. They have to buy the medicines from the local chemists who sell it at a premium. “We allow the Burmese people to access these facilities here because there is interaction and intermingling among us that their health is equally important. Many are married across the border and frequent India on a daily basis,” explains Mr. Nishikanta.

The centre also caters for a group of commercial sex workers in Myanmar who cross over to India to earn. Creating awareness about safe sexual practices including negotiating the use of condoms among the “customers” is encouraged. These function as secondary distributors for condoms.

Though Myanmar is part of the Golden Triangle, the military government there prohibits the use of narcotics. Hence it is often pushed to the Indian side but people from Myanmar also consume it here. Heroin in its purest form is available in Moreh and at reasonably cheaper price.

The price goes up manifold and the quality is compromised as the drug moves out of Moreh.

Source : The Hindu
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