On World AIDS day on December 1, close to 500 taxi and bike riders took part in an awareness drive where they undertook to distribute free condoms to passengers.
Mizoram has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in India and the campaign aims to educate people on the disease by launching the 'Love Brigade'. Initiated by the Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the drive kickstarted in the capital city of Aizwal.
The Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS)'s data reported the prevalence of AIDS among people aged between 15 to 49 years by October 2019 was 2.04% and it is almost ten times more than the national average of 0.22%. The annual new HIV infection rate was pegged at 1.32%, which is 20 times the national average of 0.07%, a grave cause of concern for the state. More than 78 per cent of HIV/AIDS resulted from unprotected sex, even though a free condom campaign has been running in the state for years.
Following Mizoram are the two other north-eastern states of Manipur and Nagaland.
The drivers who will be distributing the condoms will be wearing red jackets to identify themselves for the campaign. The condoms will be kept for anyone to pick them up from the back pocket of the vehicle's front seat.
MSACS reportedly told the Logical Indian that the the campaign has been named as Free Love condoms and apart from providing passengers with condoms, he drivers will also be trained to extend counselling to passengers. They will also give out information on free HIV testing initiatives of Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) and leaflets required for better awareness of the public.
The love brigade drive is aimed to be a collaborative effort between the public and the riders association so that a delicate health issue can be discussed without any stigma attached to it.
Mizoram’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare R Lalthangliana, reportedly told The Hindu that due to the more immediate concern of the coronavirus pandemic, the focus had shifted from HIV/AIDS. But now, the minister agreed, was the need to encourage the public to fight the 'older pandemic' of the HIV/AIDS.
The drive will also include a series of events aimed at awareness that will be taking place between December 1 and 13.
A free condom scheme has been running in the state for several years but a section of the people has reservations in availing the benefits of it for various reasons. The state has also initiated free condom pull-out kiosks in busy market areas.
(With inputs from PTI)