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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 09:50 GMT
HIV taboo a threat to UK Asians
By Emily Buchanan
BBC News

Dress
Some Asian people may not seek medical help
HIV rates in Britain are on the rise, but doctors are becoming increasingly worried at the lack of accurate figures for the Asian community.

The official rates of infection are low, but the lack of testing and the heavy stigma means they could be masking a hidden emergency.

The problem is those who have HIV often don't even want to go to the doctor, let alone speak publicly.

Malika agreed to talk to us on the condition of strict anonymity.

She lives in Leicester and lost her husband to Aids three years ago.

To your face they might be nice, but behind your back they will say: 'She's got HIV, don't go to her place'
Malika

Soon after he died she began to develop herpes zoster.

The doctor told her it was related to stress and depression. She then became more seriously ill.

"Last year I lost a lot of weight, I couldn't stand up or walk. It took me half an hour to come down stairs. I wasn't cooking or looking after my children and half the time I was staying in bed."

But it was only after she developed a chronic eye infection that threatened to make her go blind, she was finally given an HIV test and diagnosed correctly. Doctors, it seems, haven't caught up with the risks.

Changing society

Asian society too is changing. Much of the infection is taking place in heterosexual relationships in which the old taboos on sex outside marriage are beginning to crumble.

What is now ringing alarm bells is the realisation there is a severe lack of information on how far the virus has spread across this community.

Malika has managed to tell her children she is HIV positive, but is afraid to tell her friends.

"They'll think I've slept with someone last week. It will ruin my life.

"To your face they might be nice, but behind your back they will say: 'She's got HIV, don't go to her place, don't speak to her, even her spit might infect you.' All because of a lack of knowledge."

Campaigners from the Leicestershire Aids Support Services meet regularly in local cafés to work out strategies for combatting the ignorance and fear.

Lack of knowledge

HIV rates are rising across the population, but what really worries them is that large sections of the Asian community just aren't even seeking medical help.

Dr Jyoti Dhar
Asians don't use our services much, they say: 'why should we use the health service when we aren't at risk?'
Dr Jyoti Dhar
Consultant HIV physician

There is a staggering lack of knowledge about the disease and often total denial that HIV could possibly affect them.

At the local hospital, doctors like Consultant HIV Physician, Dr Jyoti Dhar, want to reach out into the community and do more random testing.

"Asians don't use our services much, they say 'why should we use the health service when we aren't at risk?' They see HIV as a disease of whites and gays."

She feels many of those most at risk don't come forward.

"Currently our national figures of testing do not reflect what is happening in this community. Because the number of tests is very small and they cannot reflect the prevalence rate. "

Malika partly blames increased travel to India for rising rates of infection.

"Lots of people are not coming forward. They are infecting other people's lives.

"They go to another country and get married, and there is no law you have to tell your partner.

"They bring their wife back to the UK and she gets infected."

And the problem is these infected women risk being accused of being promiscuous if they speak about their illness.

So there isn't only the disease to fight, but an equally big challenge is the widespread conspiracy of silence.




SEE ALSO
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24 Nov 06 |  Health
HIV
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