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How did over 800 students test HIV positive in Tripura?

How did over 800 students test HIV positive in Tripura?
Tripura is presently facing a surging HIV epidemic ripping through its student population. Fueled by injectable drug use, this crisis has infected at least 828 students and tragically claimed the lives of 47. The situation stretches across 220 schools and 24 colleges, highlighting the alarming ease of transmission.

Officials from the Tripura State AIDS Control Society (TSACS) paint a grim picture. New cases are detected daily, with estimates ranging from five to seven. This data, meticulously collected from 164 health facilities across the state, offers a comprehensive view of the outbreak's geographic and demographic reach.

The crisis appears to be disproportionately impacting students from affluent families. Often, both parents hold government jobs, possibly indicating higher disposable incomes. However, officials think that this dynamic can delay the detection of drug use and HIV infection, hindering early intervention, as per TOI.

While this news may come as a surprise to many outside the northeast, the region has actually been battling a drug problem for several years now, which has sparked a concerning shift in its HIV epidemic.

The growing threat of injectable drug use

As of November 2023, Tripura had over 5,200 active HIV/AIDS cases. While sexual transmission had dipped below 2% as of last year, injectable drug use among students became the primary mode of transmission of the deadly disease.

In just a few years, injectable drug use has skyrocketed to a staggering 95% among students aged 14-20. This surge is attributed to the easy availability of injectable drugs, leaving students particularly vulnerable.

The statistics paint a bleak picture. As of July 2023, Tripura has witnessed a 300% increase in AIDS patients over the previous decade, TOI reported. The report further stated that injectable drug users were estimated to be 43 times more likely to contract HIV compared to the general adult population. This issue is particularly concerning in northeastern states like Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur.

HIV cases have seen a dramatic rise. From a mere 11 in 2015-16, the number jumped to 757 in 2022 alone. And just over six months into 2024, the state has already seen over 800 HIV cases among students due to drug use. However, experts do point to increased surveillance, awareness and better screening are also contributing to an increased number of cases being reported in recent years.

Experts warn that this trend indicates a potential full-blown epidemic. Curbing it requires extensive counselling and mass testing among vulnerable youth. However, obtaining prior consent for testing creates a significant hurdle.

The Tripura government is actively seeking solutions. Amending the law to allow mandatory HIV testing under specific circumstances is being explored. Additionally, the focus remains on strengthening existing strategies to combat HIV/AIDS.

Tripura's Chief Minister has pointed a finger at foreign nations such as Myanmar, accusing them of fueling the illegal drug trade in the state. He has vowed to crack down on drug traffickers, highlighting Tripura's position as the leading drug seizure state in the Northeast.

With the recent surge in the state’s HIV cases, Tripura's fight against AIDS has entered a new chapter. Addressing the rising IDU trend among students is crucial to prevent a further escalation of the epidemic. Through a combination of stricter regulations, targeted interventions, and increased awareness, Tripura can hope to control this public health challenge.