Awareness is key


There is good news for Karnataka on World AIDS Day. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among young women in the state has dropped by around 54 per cent over the 2000-07 period. The achievement has been attributed to targeted prevention interventions. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu too have seen a similar drop in HIV/AIDs prevalence among women.  HIV sentinel surveillance among ante-natal clinic (ANC) populations in 27 districts over the years shows that prevalence of the virus has fallen from 1.6 per cent in 2003 to 0.86 in 2007-08. The government can take some credit for the achievement. Its setting up of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centre in every district in the state – Karnataka is the only state to have done this - seems to have had a positive impact.

The state has been able to achieve high treatment adherence among AIDS patients. In the process, it has been able to save many more lives.  However, there are areas of concern. Prevalence of HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) has increased dramatically. Moreover, HIV-tuberculosis co-infection has been found to be high in north Karnataka. A HIV-positive person infected with the TB virus has a 50-60 per cent lifetime risk of developing TB disease as compared to an HIV-negative person who has only a 10 per cent risk.

India has at least 2.5 million people who are HIV positive. This includes 80,000 children below the age of 15. India’s battle against HIV/AIDS must give more attention to prevention. Spreading awareness about how the virus is contracted must be improved especially among high-risk sections such as truck drivers, sex workers and MSMs.

Education of people about HIV/AIDS will go a long way not only in preventing the disease but in dispelling many of the myths that surround it. AIDS patients continue to be ostracised in India, even by supposedly educated and informed sections. Children of HIV parents are thrown out of schools. Hospitals refuse to treat people who are HIV positive. There have been instances in this country of HIV positive people being pelted with stones by their families and peers. It is the fear of the stigma that is attached to AIDS that prevents people from getting diagnosed early and seeking treatment. HIV/AIDS is preventable and curable. But stigma leading to late detection makes treatment less effective and death more likely. People must be made more aware of this.

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