Tests show HIV rise in Sikkim

Gangtok, Dec 1 : Twenty-eight people have died of AIDS ever since tests for the disease began in 1995 in Sikkim, which has been categorised by the National AIDS Control Society (NACO) as one of the lowest prevalence states in India.

“According to our records, the number of surviving AIDS patients in Sikkim is 111 and they are in different age groups. Most of the patients are in the age group of 20-39 and they total 106,” said V. Singhi, project director, Sikkim State AIDS Control Society. The project director said there were only two HIV patients in Sikkim in 1995.

“Fourteen persons were tested HIV positive in the state in 2005 when the society was established in Gangtok. But today, the number is 199. Three patients are below 10 and 152 are aged between 20 and 39,” said Singhi. He added that Sikkim falls under the low HIV prevalence group of C & D categorised by the NACO.

On the occasion of World AIDS Day tomorrow, the society will hold a candlelight rally in Gangtok in the evening.

The society has been working extensively with NGOs, the STNM Hospital in Gangtok and four district hospitals to provide counselling and assistance to the high risk group-commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users (IDU) and migrant labourers.

“We have roughly 700 commercial sex workers registered with six NGOs under us in Sikkim. They are provided with general counselling and free condoms along with medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases,” said Singhi.

The number of IDUs in Sikkim is estimated to be between 1,400 and 1,500. “The NGOs working with us have drop-in-centre facilities where the IDUs can exchange used syringes. We want to encourage one time use of syringes as they may be contaminated with HIV and spread the virus to others,” Singhi.

With maximum number of people contracting AIDS through unprotected sex, the society observed that modern lifestyle, easy communication facilities and economic prosperity in Sikkim have led to the demand for commercial sex workers. Singhi said after a person was tested positive for HIV, the society provides free medicines through the Anti Retro Viral Therapy Centre at its office in Gangtok.