THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the fight against HIV/AIDS, Kerala has set a new record at the national level. In the last four and a half years, the state has reported zero cases in HIV transmission due to injecting drug use (IDU). According to the Kerala State AIDS Control Society (KSACS), the achievement is nothing short of a challenge as they had to fight theft, intimidation, threat to kill and others from the drug mafia.
IDU is an important route in HIV transmission and it is spread through risk behaviours related to the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes as well as through high-risk sexual behaviour and sex for the exchange of drugs.
“This is a remarkable achievement. When the state reported zero IDU cases, the prevalence rate at the national level is 6.6 per cent,” said Dennis Joseph, joint director, KSACS.
“It was because of the successful implementation of the Needle Syringe Exchange Programme (NSEP), Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) and constant monitoring that the state emerged as a model in containing HIV transmission via IDU,” he added.
According to him, through the intervention programmes that include five projects across 10 OST centres in the state, the prevalence rate has been brought down to zero from 9.57 per cent in 2006. “For that, we had to face several challenges. NSEP is about providing sterile needles and syringes to drug users. But we get ridiculed for promoting drug use. When the importance of the same was understood by the critics, they extended their wholehearted support for the same. The major threat for IDU-targeted interventions now comes from the drug mafia,” said Dennis.
It is learnt that to sabotage it, the drug mafia is using various strategies. Other than intimidation techniques, registering themselves as patients at OST centres and providing false inputs to authorities and media, stealing methadone (used in OST as a substitute drug in the treatment of morphine and heroin addiction) are some of the other strategies being followed by them.
“The drug mafia is desperate to sabotage our targeted intervention. Thus, they step up surveillance at OST centres. They target those who come here for treatment. By providing them with drugs free of cost, they persuade patients to discontinue treatment. They also issue death threat to peer educators and outreach workers who help us identify new drug users and the shooting galleries (the place where intravenous drug users rent or borrow needles and syringes),” said Dennis.