The True Advocate from Mizoram on HIV, AIDS and Drug Use
29 May 2009: The state of Mizoram has been facing a problem of increasing drug use (especially injecting drug use). The state's proximity to the Myanmar border, from where amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are often sourced in the state, and its poor economic conditions contribute largely to the growing numbers of drug users in Mizoram.
A high number of the HIV infections in Mizoram are among injecting drug users (IDUs). Sharing of needles is a common practice resulting in the spread of HIV.
The work of UNODC in Mizoram is part of the Joint UN project funded by AusAid in the North east to support the National AIDS Control Programme - Phase -III. Stigma and discrimination of drug users at the community level has been a major barrier for the effective delivery of harm reduction programmes in the state.
UNODC has been working at the village level to conduct advocacy through village committees to address stigma and discrimination at the community level.
UNODC sees advocacy as an effective tool that can also be used for a comprehensive harm reduction approach. As part of its advocacy strategy in Mizoram, UNODC approached one of the prominent village locals, Pu Rosiama Sailo, to talk to him about his role in spreading awareness messages on prevention of HIV , AIDS and drug use among village members. He is popularly known as Pu Siama and is the President of the Young Mizo Association (YMA), a non political voluntary organization of Vanhne and the largest Civil Body Organization in Mizoram. He is also the Sunday school teacher at the local church. Both jobs are used as a vehicle to spread awareness, disseminate information about HIV and AIDS and to advocate against drug use among village folk especially the youth.
In our interview with Mr. Sailo, he shares his experience as an advocate: "before the program was introduced in my village, I felt that the only way to stop people from using drugs and the spread of HIV and AIDS was to send the drug users to prison. Today, I realize that addiction is a disease and cannot be cured by sending anyone to prison; the people who inject drugs and are addicted to it need love and understanding. I have also understood that anyone can be infected with HIV and AIDS and that prevention is possible only if accurate information is disseminated."
Regular interactions with the project staff helped Sailo change his attitude and views towards IDUs and increased his understanding about HIV and AIDS and how he can help in the prevention of it. During the YMA meetings, Sailo encourages openness in addressing risky behaviors, explains how to reduce stigma and discrimination and promotes right practice on safe sexual behaviors. He emphasizes that availing the voluntary counseling and testing facilities and provisions for treating opportunistic infections should be seen as a mandatory practice. He also reaches out to the youth and IDUs educating them on consequences of drug abuse and how they can be treated. Since religion is an important part of the community in Mizoram, attendance to church sermons and Sunday classes at the church are regular. The church and such meetings become an ideal ground for Sailo to reach out to the majority of the village folk to reinforce the messages on drug addiction, prevention of HIV and AIDS and its link with injecting drug use and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).
In addition, Sailo goes from house to house in his village discussing these issues and encouraging the village folk to approach him to better understand the preventive measures. Even women who earlier shied away from learning about STIs and HIV and AIDS, approach him to understand their role in the prevention process. This is a step forward as educating the women means reinforcing the messages to their family as well. Today Sailo's commitment to see his village progress, his eagerness to help and share information on HIV and AIDS and drug use among his people especially the youth, has made him a true social advocate.