A recent report released on 30th May '06 by the United Nations AIDS program
stated that India has 5.7 million infected people at present, making it the
larger than the 5.5 million infected in South Africa. After speaking to some
of the South Africans of Malayalee stock who has migrated to Australia
recently, I get the impression that the prevalence of HIV infection was a
factor in their decision. The driving force for this translocation was their
fear of their children coming to harm by taking part in contact sport and by
the escalating rate of violence in that country. Yet when one sees the above
statistics, one wonders whether those South African Indians returning to
their 'home country', has jumped from the frying pan into the fire!
The total number of AIDS infected persons in the world comes to tens of
millions. Even though the rate of HIV AIDS infection in India is only 0.9 %
of the population compared with 18.8 % in South Africa, because India's
population is 1.1 billion, the total number comes to this staggering 5.7
million. In India it is estimated that only 7 percent of those who need
antiretroviral drugs receive them, and only 1.6 % of pregnant women who need
treatment receive them.
In India the infection is seen mainly among sex workers, intravenous drug
users, in gay men, the so called marginalized section of the community, but
they are important in the spread of the disease In some societies, multiple
or casual sex partners together with violence against women are a major
contributing factor in the spread of the HIV infection. In India the huge
number of men employed in long distance transportation and the large numbers
of men living away from home for months on end, on account of their work,
are especially at risk.
The survey suggest that ending this pandemic will depend largely on changing
social norms, like empowering women, reducing the stigma of the disease and
encouraging a reduction in the sex partners. Alarmingly, the report also
showed that fewer than 50 % of the young people achieved comprehensive
knowledge levels about HIV and any kind of HIV prevention. The draft also
shows that religious conservatives in many countries around the world are
contributing to this ignorance.
The report states that four Indian states that showed a drop in new
infections were Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. This
shows that public health efforts are reaching to at least a small portion of
people in the country.
We will not succeed in this struggle by putting our heads in the sand and
pretending that these people do not exist or they do not need help.
Willy John Daniel, Melbourne, Australia