Background:Mizoram is one of the states in India which has been hardest hit by drug-abuse-driven HIV. Proximity to the Myanmarese border, from which heroin is sourced, is the main contributor to the prevalence of DU/IDU. But perhaps the greatest current problem is the spread of HIV and AIDS. What helps this disease to spread is the absence of sufficient awareness among the youth (and especially young women) about the risk they run in contracting HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse and the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment. The latest surveillance by NACO shows 6% HIV prevalence among injecting drug users (IDUs) and 14% among female sex workers (FSWs). But in some pockets - e.g., Champhai,- IDU is reported to account for as much as 40% of HIV infection.
One of the most significant outcomes of the UNODC CHARCA Project has been its ability to "foreground"
women's vulnerability within the Drugs and HIV/AIDS programmatically. Here a Peer Educator from Melbuk, near to the Myanmarese border, makes a point.
This is a photo of about half of the 300 empowered young women of Mizoram who work as UNODC Peer Educators. As such, they serve as ambassadors and change agents within their communities.There is a great deal of confidence, enthusiasm and commitment in the group and their role as social advocates is growing in church, school and sports settings all over the state.
Raising awareness of HIV: The essence of the problem and the basis for UNODC's outreach approach using Peer Educators (PEs) is as follows. Young women and girls in Mizoram are almost universally unprepared to protect themselves from contracting HIV. It is true that North-East India is renowned for its relatively high levels of education. Yet, because there is severe social stigma attached to HIV and drug use, there has been hardly any content related to these issues in the school curriculum in recent years. Teenage girls thus know surprisingly little about their physiognomy, or their reproductive health, or what HIV/AIDS really is or how to protect themselves against it. For this reason, UNODC has been implementing the CHARCA project in Mizoram.
CHARCA is part of a UN-system-wide project operating in several districts in India to reach out to young women between 13-25 and build their ability to resist contracting HIV. The main outcome of the project so far has been to recruit and train (via NGOs) some 300 young women to carry out outreach programmes to peers in the community all over Mizoram. In this way messages about the essentials of HIV prevention and drug abuse prevention reach out into the community well beyond the district level and down to the to blocks and even to the villages. The net result is a considerably higher level of preventive awareness than existed before. By doing this, the UN is providing an essential "bridging" role between the onset of HIV (depicted in the statistics above) and the response time of the communities' formal mechanisms such as schools.
In total, UNODC is sponsoring 300 PEs. This is the current total, up from 70 in 2004 and 182 in 2005. They operate in three districts of Mizoram - Aizawl (152), Kolasib (50) and Champhai (92). These young women are trained in the following areas:
1.women and drugs
2.women and HIV
7.self help groups
They are given refresher training in each of these areas once every 4-6 months. Each training subject is given over a period of 3-5 days.