The latest data released by the Odisha State AIDS Control Society is not heartwarming, though the state is shown to have seen a marked decline in the HIV prevalence rate. The youth continue to be most vulnerable and the number of youngsters with HIV is on the rise. According to the figures for 2019-20, of the 2,467 new infections recorded in the state up to December 2019, 996—around 40%—are in those falling in the 15-35 age group. In 2018-19, the share of youth in new cases was 32%.
The increase in youth vulnerability not only comes as a warning for the government and agencies working for the prevention of HIV and AIDS in the state, but also casts a shadow on the interventions and activities to insulate the population from the affliction. Most importantly, it puts the spotlight on the efficacy of intensive awareness campaigns undertaken by the government and its agencies to educate the people, particularly the youth and vulnerable sections, on adoption of safe practices and lifestyle.
Data reveals that over 80% of HIV cases in Odisha are through sexual transmission. That this comes after prolonged population sensitisation measures, which raise awareness on safe sexual practices, is disturbing. It is true that youth today are more sexually active and are given to exploration due to greater exposure as well as growing openness in society. But the fact that the youth are aware of the dangers of unprotected sex and still not heeding the warnings needs attention.
Though Odisha has posted a decline in HIV prevalence rate from 1.24% of the general population in 2012 to 0.62% in 2018-19, it is more due to the increase in screening of people. Detection of new cases year on year has remained similar—for instance, 3,653 in 2008 and 3,209 in 2018. There are a total of 50,228 HIV positive people in Odisha at present. With the state having set a target of eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2030, the next decade should see an all-out effort. The current strategy needs urgent reorientation so that the people, both young and old, do not fall prey to HIV and the goal is achieved.