India has achieved a reduction in overall HIV infections, but injecting drug users remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country as far as contracting HIV/AIDS is concerned, said a report.
According to the latest report by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), while HIV prevalence in India among the general population stands at 0.40 percent, HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs is as high as 7.17 percent.
Experts put the blame for the high figure in India on the poor background of drug users as well as the draconian Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, which criminalises the drug user along with peddlers.
‘People who inject drugs face widespread discrimination, physical violence, hostility and harassment at social, medical and legal levels. This drives them away from availing services which can prevent at least the transmission of HIV/AIDS,’ said Francis Joseph, programme officer of the ‘Hridaya’ project being run by the India HIV/AIDS Alliance under the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP)- III. (Read: HIV and AIDS in India)
According to a senior NACO official, though the NDPS Act in itself is very stringent, there are some provisions which allow agencies to behave differently towards drug users, but those provisions are not followed by the police and others probably because they are not aware of them.
He said among all sections who are at risk of contracting HIV, injecting drug users are the most vulnerable as the transmission of HIV is fastest through the route of shared needles and syringes.
Luv Verma, secretary, Department of AIDS Control, told IANS: ‘It is not our mandate to suggest any changes in the law. If our opinion is asked for it we will provide the same’.