ON A CHILLY MORNING in November 2002, Chingmak Kejong, a local pastor and leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, drove 50 kilometres through eastern Nagaland’s Tuensang district to Noklak, the district’s last outpost before Burma. The monsoon had passed the month before, and the road—if it could be called that—which followed the countless folds of the lush, coal-filled Naga hills, spotted with acres of earth scorched to prepare it for cultivation, was riddled by mudslides.
Chingmak was on his way to an executive meeting of the Baptist Church Association of the Khiamniungans—an eastern Naga tribe that makes up most of the nearly 4,500 households in Noklak town and its surrounding villages, some of which fall partly in Burma—at which he would defend his strategy for combatting HIV in the area. For about three years, Eleutheros Christian Society (ECS), an NGO he founded in 1993, had been running the only HIV testing in Tuensang, Nagaland’s hardest-hit district, through a centre he helped set up in Tuensang town’s hospital. In 2002, the rate of antenatal mothers testing positive—a figure often used by epidemiologists to extrapolate infection rates in general populations—was 8 percent. Anything over 1 percent is considered a generalised epidemic. “How do you comprehend 8 percent?” Chingmak recently said to me. “It’s a pandemic, not an epidemic.”