TODAY -

High prevalence of HIV/AIDS in North East alarming

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *

 High prevalence of HIV/AIDS in North East alarming



Union Health Ministry uses rock music to spread awareness about fight against AIDS/HIV in North East –the day-long Red Fest, congregation of rock bands from North East held in Shillong last week belted out the message loud and clear

Whenever you think of North East, what comes to mind are the picturesque hilly terrain, lovely weather, enjoyable rain and green forests and valleys full of flaura and fauna that comprise the land of Seven Sisters. The North East also brings up images of a society that is relatively more Anglicised and westernised in its taste of music–various genres of music ranging from pop to rock to acid rock to melodic rock, and sports and adventurous young society.

But this outer beauty that permeates the entire region hides a fatal illness–the incidence of dreaded commu- nicable disease AIDS/HIV, which is at its highest in the country in this region, at least three to five times the National average. And this despite a discernible overall fall in numbers across the country on account of vigorous fight against the disease from the Govt, and all the various stakeholders.

Just consider the numbers: As per the epidemiological significance of North Eastern States based on the behaviour of HIV epidemic, it is reflected that the data from IBBS 2014-15 and estimations 2022, the States of Mizoram (Prevalence: 2.34%), Nagaland (Prevalence: 1.34%%) and Manipur (Prevalence: 0.94%) have one of the highest adult HIV prevalence. Meghalaya stands at 0.39%.

Which is why, the Central Government and the State Governments in the region have jointly been running a campaign to create awareness as the first step to root out the medical malice from the society that is taking alarming proportions. The fifth edition of the joint campaign–Red Fest–a confluence of the most popular and famous rock and pop bands of North Eastern States for a rock concert where hugely popular musicians–solo and bands–perform their popular numbers and special songs written for the campaign against AIDS/HIV.

Telling it musically, with which the society associates itself with, in a style that the society jells with has been very successful and the fifth edition, held last week at Shillong, when at the invitation of the Meghalaya State AIDS Control Society participants from all the North Eastern States congregated for a day-long rock concert–Red Fest that hosted a Multimedia Campaign under the banner of North East United Against HIV/AIDS.

On February 28, the venue Lariti Centre for Performing Arts turned into a Rock Village where Senior Government officials from different departments at the State level, Youth, Community Members, Develop- ment Partners, Civil Society Organisations, and other stakeholders jived to music being belted out by the biggies.

Among them were Lenzing Domingo & Band from Arunachal Pradesh; Chali and the Band from Mizoram; Moko Koza from Nagaland; Pillow Records from Tripura; Voodoo Child from Assam; Aloke Y from Nagaland; 1 BHK from Manipur; Girish and the Chronicles from Sikkim and Summersalt from Meghalaya.

Rittik Phukan, lead vocalist of band Voodo Child from Assam, who perhaps has not performed only in North Korea but has done most of the countries of the globe so far, said “we try to spread the message against HIV/AIDS through our music, and believe me it is the most powerful medium to carry messages, and messages are heard, processed and acted upon. The whole world knows about AIDS, but we still have to shout about it.”

He said music has always been strongest and the most effective medium to spread message all over the world. Originally from Assam, and also living out of Assam now and then, Rithik, loves the numbers he does for this festival’s fifth edition (he has been doing since the first one five years ago).

Also he loves numbers because he is a chartered accountant by education but a rock star by profession. Music is the language people understand and connect with so easily, that makes it the best medium, he said. So far, he and his band have come out with three full albums and is popular across Northeast and some parts of the world for “melodic rock”.

Members of Manipuri Band 1BHK, “we do original songs here at the Red Fest – we are a rock band but categorised as experimental Indi rock, we are experimenting with various genres and elements. We are bringing together lot of elements together from western music and forming our own genre.”

“Here we are doing some special numbers we created for the special cause – fight against AIDS/HIV,” he said added that as rock musicians they have a greater responsibility as youngsters look up to them. “We are someone else's teacher. Some people are looking at us and thinking of what we are doing. Everything we do impacts the society. So as long as we are leading the right path, it is okay,” said the base guitarist Shane.

It pains to see kids going through such pain and we would like to help them through giving our voice which is heard, he said. Our message is simple, say no to drugs, stay safe, have safe sex. Lammmgampa, Assistant Director,Manipur State AIDS Control Society, said that our music concert is spreading awareness and also fighting AIDS/HIV.

Concurring with Rittik and band members of 1BHK, Benjamin Franklin, Director, National Aids Control Organisation of the central government’s health ministry, “Music is one language that we all understand the best way to create awareness on AIDS/HIV. The main idea of holding this North East multimedia campaign is because of the high prevalence of the disease over the years and there have been lot of programmatic interventions being taken up by NACO.

Educating the youth to make better decisions on sexual encounters and to drill in them that prevention is better than cure, these campaigns are very useful. Conveying the message through music is very effective. Now we are using social media quite extensively, and also sports, as a medium to spread the message.

Sports is also one of the medium that we use, few state AIDS control societies conduct cricket and hockey matches and use the gatherings there to spread the message, Franklin said. Special songs have been created for spreading the message – one such song is Haath Milaa and you can find it on YouTube, he said.

Now, taking the fight against AIDS/HIV across the region through airwaves is a band of dedicated and determined Radio Jockeys – RJ Alia, RJ Pallavi and RJ Gaurab aka Gaurab Bora, all from different FM radio stations in Guwahati.

“Whether it was during Covid, or later taking up causes and especially those relating to health issues is something that I have been doing since I took up radio jockeying,” said RJ Pallavi. Yes we talk about this, that and everything in the universe, but health and health calamities and the Pandemic are times when we go flat out, and use every opportunity to talk to listerns and guide them in the right direction to the extent possible,” RJ Pallavi said.

Nodding his head in full agreement, RJ Gaurab, said that in the present, on the campaign against HIV / AIDS, “I fully focus on sending out short, crisp and simple messages to the youth to warn them and also to guide them away from taking any wrong steps. Today my message on the radio is Don’t ruin your life for fleeting pleasures.”


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 11 March 2024.



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