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US NGO to Counsel HIV/AIDS Patients in Assam

Guwahati: A leading US HIV/AIDS healthcare provider will soon be reaching out to hundreds of people living with the virus in Assam to provide treatment and support//.

The US-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) will set up three voluntary counselling and testing centres in Assam's main city of Guwahati, the eastern town of Dibrugarh and the southern city of Silchar.

India's National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and AHF recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), one of the first such deals with any overseas NGO, to assist the country's 'antiretroviral roll out or treatment scale up' programme.

"This new partnership between NACO and AHF should help break the chain of new infections by helping more HIV positive individuals and those already living with AIDS into care and treatment. We sincerely thank all who were involved in drafting and securing the approval of this exciting new partnership," AHF president Michael Weinstein said in a statement.

India accounts for about 5.7 million HIV positive people, surpassing South Africa, reported UNAIDS. The northeastern region, home to about 40 million people, has been declared as one of the country's high-risk zones with close to 100,000 people infected with HIV.

Authorities in the northeast fear the disease may further spread because of the region's acute drug problem.

India's northeast lies on the edge of the heroin-producing Golden Triangle of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand and independent estimates have put the number of regular intravenous drug users in the region at up to 300,000 -- a key cause of HIV infection here.

"People living with HIV/AIDS in the region are surely going to be benefited by the AHF programme and could be a beacon of hope for thousands of people infected with the virus," Jahnabi Goswami, president of the Assam Network of Positive People (ANPP), told IANS.

Goswami, 30, is one of the few women in India fighting to raise awareness of the disease and one of an even smaller number to have publicly declared that she is HIV-positive.

"We are going to provide all help and support the AHF to carry out the programme," she said. "We can also help motivate people to take up voluntary counselling and testing and identify those who have stopped taking medicines."

A large number of people living with HIV in the northeast are struggling for survival with hundreds dying with no access to treatment, care and support.

"In Assam, the AHF will help NACO expand and scale up AIDS treatment and care, including providing anti-retroviral treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS," said Dr Chinkholal Thangsing, Asia-Pacific bureau chief of the AHF.

"Each centre will be manned by a minimum of seven people, including two doctors and a counsellor. The AHF will not only train them and pay their salaries but will also provide them with CD-4 count machines."


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