Combating HIV/AIDS in J&K

Nissar Ahmad Dar &  Irfan Farooq Bhat
In J&K the Jammu & Kashmir State AIDS Control Society has made extraordinary progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Just over three decades ago, when we knew only the devastation HIV inflicted, those living with it had to fight just to be treated with dignity and compassion, and since the initial cases of AIDS were reported, tens of millions of vibrant men and women have lost their lives to this deadly virus. Today, we have transformed what it means to live with HIV/AIDS. More effective prevention, treatment, and care now save millions of lives while awareness has soared and research has surged. This World AIDS Day, we come together to show solidarity to all those who have been infected & affected by HIV/AIDS and celebrate the promising public health and scientific advances that have brought us closer to our goal of an AIDS-free generation.
In the face of a disease that extends far beyond our borders, JKSACS remains committed to leading the State in the fight against HIV/AIDS and ensuring no one is excluded. Hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls and young women are infected and affected with HIV every year, and we are working to reach and assist them.
HIV/AIDS is not only a Health problem, the adverse socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS is visible at the household, communities, and also at the macro level. Given the low overall HIV prevalence in State of Jammu & Kashmir, there has not been any significant effort to address the impact comprehensively. The focus of the National AIDS Control Programme, phase IV is on empowerment of the people living with HIV/AIDS and reduction in the social stigmatisation along with sustainability of the Prevention programmes.
J&K State AIDS Control Society is striving hard to address the socio- economic issues of the people living with HIV/AIDS. Initiatives are being taken for the integration of these people with different departments in order to improve their standard of living. One step forward in this direction has been taken recently and Rs. 80 lacs are kept in this financial year in J&K State budget for these PLHIVs. This is done by integrating them with Health & Medical Education Department Govt. of J&K. J&K State AIDS Control Society has also planned to initiate the process of integration with other departments like:
* Education Department  for free education,
* CAPD  for free food,
* Transport Department for free transport facilities,
* Revenue Department for providing BPL cards,
* Social welfare  Department for providing Scholarships, stipends & pensions,
* Tourism  Department to engage them as tourist guides / receptionists,
* State Cabinet for Reservation of jobs in all the departments of State on the analogy of differently abled persons to benefit the people living with this deadly disease. Moreover with guarantee of jobs they can be empowered and will be self sufficient.
J&K State AIDS Control Society has adopted a bottom up approach to address the issues pertaining to the awareness on HIV/AIDS by involving Red Ribbon Clubs of all the colleges of the State to tap the youth from the tender age. JKSACS is tackling the problem on various fronts using different strategies to create awareness among different sub population groups. JKSACS plans to strength and support the existing infrastructure to address the problem right at the grass root level, new STI Clinics, Blood Banks, Targeted Intervention Projects for High Risk Groups through NGO’s, new ICTC’s are being set up, equipments are being upgraded, alternate ART medicines are being used and use of condoms are being promoted freely.
Moreover, apart from intensifying awareness campaigns, Counsellors, Lab Technicians, and Medical Officers are being provided trainings to mark the difference.
National AIDS Control Programme, Phase – IV  is being implemented in Jammu & Kashmir by J&K State AIDS Prevention & Control Society through following divisions:
Information Education & Communication Division :
Information, Education and Communication (IEC) combines strategies, approaches and methods that enable individuals, families, groups, organisations and communities to play active roles in achieving, protecting and sustaining their own health. Embodied in IEC is the process of learning that empowers people to make decisions, modify behaviours and change social conditions. Activities are developed based upon need assessments, sound educational principles, and periodic evaluation using a clear set of goals and objectives.
Blood Safety Division:
To ensure reduction of transfusion-transmitted infections in the Country through voluntary blood donation programmes and quality blood supplies for patients. All donated blood is tested for HIV/HBV/Malaria/HCV/VDRL.
In the State of J & K, the availability of blood is ensured through an excellent network of 22 NACO supported blood banks which include one Model Blood Bank (GMC, Jammu), Two  BCSUs (SKIMS, SMHS) and Three Major Blood Banks ( Lalla Ded, Bone & Joint, and SMGS) 14 District level Blood Banks (Gandhi Nagar Hospital Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar in Jammu Division, Anantnag, Pulwama, JLNM Srinagar, Budgam, Kupwara, Baramulla in Kashmir Division, Kargil & Leh in Ladakh Division).
Four new Blood Banks for District Hospitals of Shopian, Samba, Ganderbal and Kulgam and One new BCSU for Lalla Ded Hospital Srinagar have been  got approved by JKSACS in this financial year.
Integrated Counselling & Testing Centres (ICTCs)
HIV counselling and testing services are a key entry point for prevention of HIV infection and for treatment and care of people who are infected and affected with HIV. When availing counselling and testing services, people can access accurate information about HIV prevention and care, and undergo an HIV test in a supportive and confidential environment. People who are found HIV negative are supported with information and counselling to reduce risk and remain HIV negative. People who are found HIV positive are provided psycho-social support and linked to treatment and care.
Presently there are 35 ICTC centres functional in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Five new ICTC centres are being established by JKSACS.  JKSACS has taken up the issue with NACO for establishment of more centres in the state in order to spread its ICTCs network to cater more people in the far flung areas of the State so that the hidden pandemic does not go unreported.
In the current financial year upto October 2014 a total number of 59183 clients were counselled and tested among whom 28235 were general clients and 30948 were pregnant women, out of these 184 clients were found HIV positive among general clients and 08 clients were found HIV positive among pregnant women.
Targeted interventions
Targeted Intervention (TI) is one of the main components under NACP IV. The Program is designed to reduce the rate of HIV transmission among the Core Group viz. Female Sex Workers (FSWs), Men having Sex with Men (MSMs), Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) & Bridge populations like migrants and truckers. The TI programme is being implemented through the Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
STI Programme
STI  means Sexually Transmitted Infections caused by microbes that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
STI transmission mainly depends upon sexual behaviour. A person with many sexual partners is much more likely to acquire STI than a person with one partner.
To provide quality STI/RTI services in J&K as per national guidelines, JKSACS has established five NACO designated STI clinics at the Govt. health facilities. Two new STI centres have been got approved by JKSACS through NACO under Annual Action Plan 2014-15.
In this financial year Rs. 80 lakh are kept by Commissioner Secretary Health and Medical Education for PLHIVs in order to improve their quality of life by disbursing the same in the form of financial help to them.
Further, this year JKSACS has come out of health institutions and reached out to the real stake holders (Adolescent youth) through Red Ribbon Clubs of all the Degree Colleges of J&K State. After providing them awareness on HIV/AIDS various activities like workshops, Seminars, Symposiums, Posters Competitions etc were organised. This is being done keeping in focus that HIV/AIDS is more a socio-economic problem apart from health problem, this approach is adopted by Project Director, Dr. Mohan Singh under the guidance of Jenab Gazzanfer Hussain Commissioner Secretary Health and Medical Education Govt. of J&K.

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