Skip to content Skip to navigation

Churches' Response to HIV Epidemic in Northeast India

The first HIV/AIDS case in India was detected in 1986 and since then, HIV infections have been reported in all states and union territories. India has a low overall rate of infection, however, certain places in the country have been more affected than others.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It is seen that HIV is more severe in the southern half of the country in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and the far northeastern states of Manipur and Nagaland and Mizoram.  As per the HIV statistics of 2010, India had 23.9 lakh people infected with HIV in 2009 at an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 0.31%. Adult HIV prevalence among men was 0.36%, while among women, it was 0.25%.

Phungreiso Varu, Assistant Professor at the School
Social Sciences at Assam Don Bosco University
The Church response in the early 1980s and 1990s was lukewarm, with lack of concern. The church leaders then said, “No good Christians, no good people indulge in drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, other social evils and immoral sexual activities leading to HIV/AIDS and other STDs.

It was then that drug abuse started raising its ugly head from 1980 in Manipur and later in other North East States. In the aftermath of its encroachment in the society especially among the youths, there were cases of snatching of gold chains and earrings from children and instances of killing children too.

The militant underground organisations also started targeting the addicts as a means of correction and prevention of addiction among the people of Manipur. In 2007 there were several news reports of addicts being shot in the leg by the under ground groups and some addicts even killed. Controversy over Christian funeral service to the shot dead addicts also arose.

The situation was such that people from all walks of life had to put their heads together and intervene on these urgent social diseases. 

In 1985, the International Year of the Youth many seminars, workshops particularly by Pastors, church leaders, community leaders, and youth groups made it a real year of awakening mostly centring on drug abuse and youth.

Though HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in 1981 in the US, and 1986 in India, Manipur had its HIV+ cases only in 1990 (961 total cases) which were the first cases in the North Eastern States.

Today, there are many participatory Churches involved in HIV/AIDS activities like awareness campaign, treatment and home-based care. The encouragement and urging from World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, in its book entitled: “Facing AIDS, Challenges, Church Response” was a great springboard for the Christian Missionaries and their role in home based care in giving counselling, medical care and support, nutrition, social rehabilitation/social security to a certain extent is seen very important.

Government agencies have recognized the Churches in Northeast India as an essential and inevitable contributor in controlling and mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS says research scholar from the region.

Assistant Professor in the School of Social Sciences at AssamDonBoscoUniversity Mr Phungreiso Varu made the claim while presenting a paper at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held last week in Bangkok.

The scholar from Manipur says, “The policy effort to engage Churches as key partners in implementing HIV and AIDS program, nationally or regionally is, henceforth unavoidable.”

The HIV epidemic in the North East India is largely driven by use of HIV infected syringes and needles by injecting drug users (IDUs) and increasing transmission of HIV through sexual mode.

Its proximity to the golden triangle (Myanmar, Laos and Thailand) and drug trafficking routes, a large number of drug users with high prevalence of injecting and sharing practices, interface of drug use and sex work, and low usage of condoms across the region have contributed to an exceptional rise in cases of HIV and AIDS.

Among the North Eastern states, Manipur has shown the highest estimated adult HIV prevalence of 1.22%, followed by Mizoram (0.74%) and Nagaland (0.73%).

The region estimates a total of 63,049 HIV infected people, the highest being in the state of Manipur (25, 369) and the lowest in Sikkim (539).

Three percent of India's HIV positive cases today come from these northeast states of Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland, which has only 4% of the country's total population.

Initially the Churches “were reluctant to respond to HIV/AIDS intervention considering the high prevalence and pressing needs of the region.”

However, churches in the region faced new challenges where HIV/AIDS pandemic claimed the lives of many congregations’ members during the last few years. Realizing the impact and importance of addressing HIV, the churches responded and played significant role in HIV prevention, providing care and support as service-provider in partnership with various government and civil groups.

The scholar Varu further asserts, “Given the significance of these statistics and the importance of addressing HIV and AIDS issue, the government is increasingly showing commitment towards greater participation of churches, civil societies and leaders of communities.”

Today, the Churches have established a strategic partnership with state government (Health and Family Welfare and other related Departments).

In turn, Government and Civil Societies equipped the church leaders and pastors to respond to the HIV and AIDS challenges, and advocacy to build relationship with local churches and its congregation members by organized awareness campaigns in church functions and community festivals.

Churches initiated seminars and salvation camps for youth and Sunday school students with training conducted for church leaders and youth in the program management of HIV and AIDS issues.

The churches operate Community Care Center and support People Living with HIV, especially women and orphans (spiritually, physically and financially) with assistance from NACO, Government of India.

Besides integrating HIV/AIDS teaching as an integral part of religious preaching, Churches developed behavior change communication resources and disseminated them.

In the recent years, some 2,000 youths and 1,000 women were trained on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support while reducing stigma and discrimination programs.

Ten Church groups have initiated their own health ministry, counseling centers, income Generation Program and imparted skill trainings to support PLHIV and disadvantage population especially women.

The church groups were able to help some 70 orphans and 200 widows infected and affected by HIV.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India through its Healthcare Commission has been involved in the Project of Access to Care and Treatment (PACT) sponsored by the Global Fund since 2007. This step was taken as a concrete expression of the policy of the bishops in relation to HIV/AIDS, “a commitment to compassion and care.”

The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), one of the world’s largest non-governmental organisations in the health sector, has more than 160 Catholic institutions across the country involved in HIV/AIDS prevention, care and rehab programs. Of these, 86 have specialized care centers as well as special shelters for children affected by HIV and AIDS, “where in addition to healthcare, education and rehabilitation are a priority." 

Author info

CM Paul's picture

Former HoD, Dept of Mass Communications at Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati, C.M. Paul was editor of The Herald weekly in Kolkata and director of Don Bosco International News Agency (ANS) based in Rome. He did MA in Journalism & Mass Communication from FORDHAM University, New York.

Add new comment

Random Stories

Khagholi jamming

ICCRs 1st Horizon Series Programme at Dimapur

6 Jan 2013 - 2:36pm | editor
The first Horizon Series Cultural Programme of the year 2013 was successfully held on 5th January 2013 from 6 pm onwards at Soul Speak Studio hall, Dimapur. The main programme saw performances from...

Food poisoning strikes UN attention

10 Mar 2017 - 3:00pm | Babul Gogoi
Geneva March 10: Food poisoning is now a global phenomenon. But India has reasons to be worried where the country has been witnessing a series of incidents at regular intervals. Foods in the country...

Blast in Guwahati bound train: 3 killed

1 May 2014 - 8:45am | AT News
At least 3 people died and twenty others have sustained injury when a powerful blast rocked the Guwahati-B’lore Express in Chennai on Thursday.The explosion took place at the Chennai Central Station...

Action against unauthorized industries near KNP!

9 Jun 2012 - 3:47am | editor
The National Green Tribunal has asked the ministry of environment and forests to step up action against the unauthorized industrial units operating in the No Development Zone around the Kaziranga...

Other Contents by Author

In a rare case of rags to riches story, an Assamese entrepreneur today heads a trillion dollar company in the U.S. employing over 4,000 people. The man in the case is Siddhartha Chowdhary, the founder of Credence, a consulting organization based in Washington DC. An alumnus of IIT Kharagpur (1988-92 Batch) he was two terms president of PAN IIT activities for over 5,000 members in the U.S. Siddhartha affectionately called as Sid was introduced as an unmatched achiever from northeast India at a felicitation held at Press Club Dispur in his home city Guwahati, on 22nd December 2023. Introducing him was his former principal at Don Bosco School Guwahati Fr V. M. Thomas who said, “Sid...
Siliguri: A premier Catholic school in North Bengal staged an ambitious musical performance marking its golden jubilee with two-day open air mega event by 1,200 children teaching and learning from animal kingdom. Some 12,000 people including school children and their guardians, as well as students and faculty members from Siliguri participated in both shows staged by Don Bosco School Siliguri. The musical ‘The Lion King’ stage production with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, with additional music and lyrics by Lebo M and others is based on the 1994 Walt Disney Animation Studios' film of the same name. In the golden jubilee...
Imphal, July 29: In a gesture of peace and reconciliation, elders of Vaishnavite Community in Imphal have taken on moral responsibility for the misdeeds of the immature youth of their community, by declaring an indefinite fast and prayer.  In the wake of Archbishop Emeritus Thomas Menamparampil’s third visit to Manipur (25th to 27th July 2023) coincides with the initiative of the Convener of Interfaith Forum for Peace and Harmony of Manipur, Mr. Deben Sharma, announcing Indefinite Fast and Prayer in the name of his Vaishnavite Sanamahi community.  Mr. Sharma, one of the initiators of the Interfaith Forum for Peace along with a number of highly placed leaders...
In a post-covid outreach effort to connect with the local community, Radio Salesian journalists made their first attempt and reached one of the far-flung tea garden in Mirik Sub-Division, some two hours' drive from Sonada. On Saturday 5 March, the Radio Salesian RJ team including 4 new radio journalists RJs Wang, Garima, Bandana and Pratap went for their first community outreach programme guided by senior RJs Moses, Rejina and Programme Co-ordinator RJ Samir.  Upon reaching Murmah Tea Estate, the Radio Salesian team members were received with traditional khadas (scarf) and welcome greetings from the residents of Murmah. Radio Salesian regular listener and caller Laxmi Pradhan...
Siliguri: Marking the 50th anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh and the 13-day Indo-Pak war of 1971, a group of college students organised a felicitation program for war veterans on 18th December 2021. Leading a group of six veterans, as well as a war widow was 86-year old Hon Cap S.B. Chhetri, who belonged to 5/11 Gorkha Rifles who were part of the decisive battle of Bogra to capture Dhaka, then the capital of East Pakistan. Other eminent veterans present were Hawaldar Duryodhan Tamang (Army Corps of Engineers); Hon Capt Hemant Subba; Subedar Bijai Kumar Subba Sena Medal; Hav M Gautam Tamang; Subedar Tilak Ram Chhetri, and war widow Mrs Ishadevi Thapa, representing late Sub SB...
A college in North Bengal concluded two day college events with celebration of diversity of India with a much awaited popular item - fashion show, 17th December 2021. Salesian College Siliguri organised the event christened Exsurge 2021 (Arise and Take Flight), which has had its tradition since 2009 when Salesian College Sonada established in 1938 started its Siliguri campus. Unlike other years, this year, despite the pandemic, students were able to participate in 20 events including: bands, dancing, painting, collage, sketching, doodling, poetry, stand up comedy, photography and short film making among others. “It is our way of affirming the diverse culture of India represented by...
Guwahati, 22 October 2021: A group of academicians and social activists came together under the leadership of the archbishop emeritus of Guwahati to promote peace at a time when the whole of Brahmaputra Valley is “in search of peace”.  The occasion was the release of an Assamese language book entitled Hanti Bisari (In Search of Peace) written by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil. The original work in the English language was translated into Assamese by a civil society leader, Mr. Paresh Malakar. The book-release turned out to be a social-discussion session in which the need for mutual understanding between communities was emphasised. A reputed intellectual of Assam, Mr. Hiren...
The combined 10-day Annual National Cadet Corps (NCC) Training Camp was held under the aegis of the 16th Bengal Battalion at Salesian College Siliguri from 16th to 25th September 2021.  As many as 400 NCC cadets from 10 colleges from in and around Siliguri participated. Camp activities included drills, weapons training, map reading and various team-building exercises along with social activities.  28 Cadets from Salesian College participated in the camp along with Salesian College NCC Coordinator Lt Risha Chettri. The Cadets followed their daily schedule which included doing morning meditation, morning and evening drills, studying subjects from the armed forces as...
Darjeeling: The first college Community Radio in North Bengal launched a creative initiative to mark 75th year of India’s Independence with what it calls ‘Azaadi Freedom Songs’ - a celebration of diversity and harmony. India snatched its freedom from British colonial rule on 15th August 1947. Radio Salesian 90.8 FM - The Voice of the Hills based at Salesian College Sonada is the first and only FM radio channel of Darjeeling since 2016. This Independence Day initiative by Radio Salesian is in collaboration with two youth groups : Darjeeling NGO Mukh Bandh Kaam Suru (Shut Up Start Work) and Salesian Youth Movement Kolkata. “It is our humble effort to promote fraternity, liberty,...
A group of Non Government Organizations (NGO) in the hills have come together to fight Covid 19 with joint well being campaign with slogans: ‘Bring Back the Smiles’, and ‘We Build Each Other.   “Using the hashtags #Bringbackthesmiles #Webuildeachother, the Well Being Campaign is all set to change the information game in these trying times,” says Adarsh Rai Founder of Encompass and team member of Hayden Hall Darjeeling.    “We plan to do it from top-down directives to modelling everyday safety standards, from negativity to positive action language, from fear and doom to healing, well being, hope and growth,” says Psychologist Susan Subba of Heart works....