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In festive season, NGOs flag risk of HIV infection amid shortage of condoms

Pune and several districts across Maharashtra are facing a severe shortage of state government-supplied free condoms. Condoms are a vital part of HIV prevention programmes and civil society groups have been raising demands for a regular supply since December last year.

In the ongoing festive season, NGOs working in the field of HIV prevention have flagged concerns about the unavailability of condoms and the risk of HIV infection.

Till August this year, there are more than 32,755 people living with HIV in Pune and, according to Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) data, there are approximately 44,812 people who fall under the high-risk categories — female sex workers (6,398), Men Having Sex with Men (1,830), transgender (627), injecting drug users (286), truckers (6,669) and migrants (29,002).

The HIV positivity rate in high-risk groups like female sex workers is 0.13 percent, Men Having Sex With Men 0.43 percent, and 0.83 percent among the transgender population.

Maharashtra has an annual requirement of 4.68 crore condoms and 39 lakh pieces are usually supplied every month. However, MSACS was able to get 18 lakh condoms. “We have been able to supply a few quantities to NGOs,” top officials at MSACS told The Indian Express.

Across various groups, there has been increasing concern over the short supply of free condoms for a while now. “Condom is a lifeline for prevention of HIV infection and in Pune the government supplied free condoms have been unavailable for three months,” Tejaswi Sevekari, Executive Director, Saheli Sangh, a sex workers’ collective in Pune, said.

“We have at least 2,200 female sex workers in the Budhwar Peth area and several have voiced concern about the shortage. The festive season is just beginning — with the ten-day Ganesh festival now underway in the city. This is also a peak season when the flow of customers to the red light areas rises significantly,” Sevekar added.

According to one of the sex workers in the Budhwar Peth area, who prefers to call herself Kajal, said that the government subsidized condoms were available at a few places like Gadikhana. These also cost Rs 150 for 100 condoms and we have been paying through our nose for a month’s supply,” Kajal claimed.

The shortage is not only being felt in Pune. According to Kiran Deshmukh of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad, for the last eight months, several districts of Maharashtra have had to deal with limited or no condoms.

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There has been a stock-out since December and districts like Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur have only just got their supply, Deshmukh said. Anil Ukrande, president of Yutak Trust and a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) activist, claimed that there was sheer apathy shown by government-run organizations on the issue of HIV prevention.

“We have been flagging concerns not only about the shortage of condoms but also HIV testing kits that have been in short supply,” Ukrande added.

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When contacted, Dr Prasad Bhandari, Additional Project Director, MSACS, told The Indian Express that they had raised the issue with the National AIDS Control Organisation. “There have been procedural delays in the procurement of condoms which has led to the shortage,” Dr Bhandari said. He, however, added that adequate supply would be resumed by the end of the month.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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