Suggestions For Improvement Of Revised Manipur State AIDS Policy

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“Provisions on Information, Education and Communication (IEC)as included in the revised policy need to be more precise, concrete and convincing for effective implementation of the programme”

by: Seram Neken
Manipur had been proud to be the first and only state of the country to adopt a State AIDS Policy for fighting the onslaught of the deadly epidemic, until NACO formulated the national AIDS prevention and control policy in 2002. The Manipur state AIDS policy was adopted on 3rd October 1996 with provisions for reducing stigmatization and discrimination, encouraging harm reduction programmes and also for promoting confidentiality of the affected people. Provisions on various aspects of the disease control strategy like the HIV testing, communications for HIV and AIDS, Needle/syringe exchange programmes and condom promotion were clearly reflected in that policy, although the document has now lost certain suitability in course of time and in course of the changes visible in the face of the epidemic. It is, therefore, obligatory for the policy makers to revise the existing policy to suit the changing scenario of the epidemic. The Manipur State AIDS Control Society exercised its wisdom by producing a draft revision of the policy on the occasion of World AIDS Day last, and invited suggestions from the public to make it implementable and effective.

After going through the revised document, this writer has decided to put a few humble suggestions in the area of Information, Education and Communication (IEC). The policy on IEC as included in point number 5 of the document needs to be studied and improved in its language and content to make it more presentable. IEC as a component is required for all the sub-programmes related to HIV and AIDS control. As for instance, apart from awareness generation and behavior change, other programmes like needle-syringe exchange programme, condom promotion, ART treatment programme, HIV testing and rehabilitation of affected peoples need effective IEC strategies to make the programmes fruitful. In the absence of effective communication, all programmes will fail to get the desired results.

It is seen that there are certain unnecessary and irrelevant points in the section which make the policy unclear and impractical. The language used such as “A strong IEC/Advocacy campaign needs to be launched at all levels for those who are at the highest level to the lowest general public level to make them understand and motivated about the need for immediate prevention of the disease also adopting a human right approach towards those who have been already infected with HIV/AIDS”. The expressions “who are at the highest level” and “the lowest general public level” are confusing, as we cannot term the general public as at the lowest level. To make it more clear, we may mention the target population such as – intellectuals, bureaucrats, policy makers, youths and students, housewives, labourers etc. without grading them at different levels so as to reflect their level of understanding of HIV and AIDS. Then, “adopting a human right approach towards those who have been already infected with HIV/AIDS” needs to include “those affected” also.

The introductory note and the provisions may be more precise and explanatory by defining – what is IEC in HIV and AIDS programme, what is its importance, what are objectives of IEC, through what media/ channels do we implement IEC, how to develop and produce IEC materials and programmes, how to make NGO/CBO involved, how to monitor and evaluate IEC programmes, IEC committee, its composition, power and role etc.

In spite of hectic efforts, there is neither an effective vaccine against HIV nor a standard cure for AIDS. Therefore, in order to prevent the spread of HIV, we need to provide accurate information on HIV and AIDS to the people. They shall be educated on the various ways for HIV prevention and motivated to follow positive behavior to avoid HIV and AIDS. The people who are at higher risk shall be educated and motivated to practice related skills to protect themselves from HIV infection and also not to spread the virus to others, if they already have the virus. Those who have been infected with HIV shall be encouraged to adopt positive lifestyles to live a meaningful and longer life at par with those who are HIV free. There are a lot of treatments for them available, even free of cost at government set-ups. For those who have developed AIDS, they shall be encouraged to consult physicians and care workers by developing health seeking behavior among them.

Objectives of IEC:
1. Overcoming ignorance about HIV, AIDS, STD, preventive ways, care and treatment.
2. Overcoming stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS.
3. Creating an enabling environment for people particularly HIV infected ones to get adequate health care and also to live well and long lives.
4. Bringing about behavior change among the vulnerable sections of population.
5. Developing health seeking behavior among general population.
6. Developing life skills among young people to defend them from peer pressures.
7. Influencing the policy makers to formulate suitable and sustainable HIV and AIDS control programmes.

Target population:
1. Youths and students who are vulnerable to HIV infection due to their exposure to adolescence, adventurous nature and ignorance are the important target of IEC programme. They need accurate and consistent information on HIV prevention. They need constant motivation through suitable media.
2. Young housewives either at home or who attend workplaces, either educated or uneducated need HIV prevention information because they give birth to children, they rear children and they act as social vigilantes in Manipur society. Health seeking behavior shall be inculcated in them.

3. Risk population – Commercial sex workers, Injecting drug users, Men-having-sex-with-men etc. who are at higher risk of contracting the virus shall be taught skills to prevent themselves, and also not to spread the virus to others, if they have it. Migrant labourers, truckers, security personnel etc. who stay away from family for days and months shall be provided information on HIV prevention.

4. Policy makers, Bureaucrats, Intellectuals – they need accurate and updated information because their knowledge and understanding have to be reflected in policies and programmes of prevention and control.

5. Affected and infected people – IEC has to encourage affected and infected people to follow positive lifestyles and to get treatment and rehabilitation without hesitation.

6. Health care providers including Doctors and Nurses – who are always with the HIV infected people shall have updated information on HIV and AIDS.

Utilization of media/ communication channels for achieving the above objectives:
1. Print media – newspapers, journals, books etc.
2. Electronic media – Radio, TV, Cable network, telephone counseling, Films, documentaries
3. Traditional media – Locally accepted media like Shumang Lila, Drama, Theatre, Puppetry, story narration, local musical programmes etc.
4. Little media – pamphlets, leaflets, broachers, stickers etc.
5. Outdoor media – hoardings, signboards, wall posters, banners, groundboards, kiosks etc.
6. Inter personal communication channels – counseling, awareness sessions, panel discussions, training programmes etc.
Rationale for choice of media – media management
1. The choice of media to be utilized shall be based on communication needs of the local people, considering the knowledge level of the targets, languages, socio-economic backgrounds etc.
2. Reach of the particular medium and level of access to the medium by the local people shall be important criteria for choice of media.
3. The culture and tradition of local people shall get priority in utilizing media. National criteria shall be modified to suit local cultures.

Proposed IEC Committee
An IEC Committee composed of experts in various communication fields may be proposed in the AIDS policy. Representatives from electronic media, print media, traditional media, government publicity agencies, Radio and TV programme managers, NGO functionaries expertise in the field, medical expert in the field and representative of positive people’s networks and widows groups shall be its members. The committee shall have the role to devise IEC strategies, and also to steer IEC programmes. The committee shall examine all materials and productions for approval. It shall work in technical areas, whereas the government has the financial and policy powers. The IEC Committee may also be entrusted to monitor and evaluate all IEC programmes for its furtherance and also for improvement.
The above points may be clearly reflected in the proposed revised policy by avoiding unnecessary clauses to make the policy more practical.

(Writer is a freelance journalist)

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