Off Pune-Bílore highway, a novel experiment to check HIV

The presence of migrant sugarcane farmers and a thriving commercial sex industry makes Karad tehsil off the Mumbai-Pune-Bangalore highway a high-prevalence HIV pocket ó and it is here that a new rural research initiative is being launched on World AIDS Day tomorrow.

For the first time, Pune-based National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) will extend its activities to the rural and semi-urban pockets of the state.

The NARI-AIDS Rural Research Initiative in Maharashtra (NARRIM) is an extension of the Pune-based institute's activities in rural areas, NARI director Dr R S Paranjape told The Indian Express. He pointed out that HIV and AIDS continued to outpace response, especially in rural areas.

Maharashtra was one of the earliest states to be affected by HIV/AIDS, and one of the first to be considered a high-prevalence state. The state sees considerable in-migration, and 32 of its 35 districts are labeled 'Category A', indicatind a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS.

Also, while 72 per cent of Indians live in rural areas, where the estimated HIV prevalence is only slightly lower than in urban areas, awareness levels in the villages are precariously low, Dr Rajat Goyal, country director of International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and one of the funding partners of the project, told The Indian Express.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has sought to reach out to rural areas, and a corpus of around Rs 1 crore has been built for the Karad initiative. Karad taluka was chosen due to its strategic location adjacent to NH-4, which sees massive inter- and intra-district migration, and is on a busy truckers' route.

The initial phase of the project will last 18 months. There will be tie-ups with communities, consultations with local stakeholders, and formation of advisory and regulatory bodies at the sites. Rapid assessments and counseling for HIV prevention would be carried out, Dr Goyal said.

These steps will help to map the 'hotspots' and high-risk populations in the area, and facilitate the understanding of the socio-behavioural and cultural determinants of HIV infection and prevention preparedness in the community.

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