Deborshi Chaki, CNN-IBN, Posted Sunday , March 05, 2006 at 20:23
Guwahati: Soldiers serving in the troubled Northeastern states not only face the threat of the bullets of terrorists but are also vulnerable to the HIV virus.
To counter the threat of HIV, the Indian army is now planning to make the HIV tests mandatory for all personnel serving in the Northeast.
Vice Admiral and Director General of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS), VK Singh, said, "If I don’t do this recruitment screening test then HIV positive people may come into our forces. That’s why we want to insulate our forces from the induction of HIV positive people."
"We have brought down the percentage of HIV positive people to 0.28 per cent but our aim is to bring it to zero per cent," Singh says.
Tests of courage in conflict zones is something that most men in uniform always look forward to but the test for screeing the HIV positive soldiers is likely to catch most of them off guard.
The proposal to screen the personnel has already been cleared by the Chief of Staffs Committee and is based on reports that the Northeastern states are vulnerable to HIV.
It also appears that the army is keen to learn from the experience of Assam Rifles, which has 133 confirmed HIV cases in its ranks.
The Director General of Assam rifles, Lt General Bhopinder Singh, says that this is because his force id stationed permanently in the Northeast
"When you compare the jawan of Assam Rifles with a jawan of the Army, BSF or CRPF you must remember that our jawans saty here where the battalion of other forces go back to some other place after some time. That is he is in high risk category as he is going to serve througout his career in the Northeast," Bhopinder Singh says.
"HIV is more wide spread in the Northeast than other parts of the country which is a well know fact," he adds.
In an unprecedented move, the Assam Rifles has also made it mandatory for its personnel to carry condoms while on duty but ironically the problem lies in the nature of the job that the jawans undertake.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS Dr Peter Piot says, "HIV does not need a visa or passport and particularly in the Northeast as it is surrounded by a country like Myanmar which is very heavily affected by AIDS, much more than any nplace in India. It is also a major source of heroin for the drug trade."
The army’s proposal for mandatory HIV tests for service personnel in the northeast in itself is a silent admission of the fact that cross border infiltration and drug trafficking contnues and the soldeirs are equally vulnerable to the problem like anyone else.
(With inputs from Anjali Gupta)