Sneha (name changed) had shied away from taking a HIV/AIDS test due to the social stigma till a team of a civil society organisation visited the remote Komalapadu village, near Santamagaluru, and organised a Burrakatha by folk artistes prodding the villagers to know their health status.

Diagnosed with HIV, she underwent antiretroviral therapy (ART) to combat the virus and stop its progression. With a lifestyle change, she is now leading a healthier life.

So is the case with thousands of villagers who have been able to know their health status and take timely treatment, thanks to the intervention of the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) to go to peoples’ doorsteps to test all and treat all, and prevent onward transmission of HIV.

“With the proactive approach, we were able to identify the hidden population suffering from the disease in time and start treatment to help them live longer and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus,” District AIDS Control and Prevention Unit (DACPU) programme manager T. Ranga Rao explained after motivating a group in Chimakurthy, where a large number of migrants work in granite quarries, to check their health status.

Numbers not adding up

DACPU took up the targeted intervention programme in 2018 as the number of persons coming to designated ART centres in Ongole, Markapur and Chirala was not commensurate with the perceived prevalence in the district. With the Chennai-Kolkata highway and Hyderabad-Addanki expressway criss-crossing, commercial sex workers’ dens abound in Ongole, Chirala, Singarayakonda and Tangutur.

Hence it chalked out a programme to reach out to the people in the villages in and around Kanigiri, Addanki, Santamagaluru, Chimakurthi, with a high rate of migration of construction workers and truck drivers. Staying away from their families for long periods, they contract the disease during their travels to cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai.

DACPU selects villages for the folk media campaign based on nearness to national highways and inward and outward migration for jobs.

Earlier, patients undergoing ART treatment had to go all the way to Chennai or Hyderabad for a Viral Load Test. Now, the samples are collected in Ongole itself and the second line of treatment started for needy patients after testing the samples, he added.

As many as 86,305 persons were tested for HIV till October this year and 1,090 tested positive, and treatment started under the ‘Test and Treat’ policy.

Treatment for life

The DACPU provided ART medicines free which otherwise cost about ₹5,000 per month to those who tested positive. First, for three months at the nodal ART centres in Ongole, Markapur and Chirala, and later at the 11 Community Health Centres nearer to their habitations, for life. “Kala Jathas will be organised till December 3 to motivate more to know their health status,” Mr. Rao said.

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