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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 02:11 GMT

World: South Asia

India's HIV highway

Roads are carrying more than just traffic, the research says

By John Wilson of BBC Science

Long distance truck drivers in India are playing a fundamental role in spreading HIV, the Aids virus, around the country, according to new research.

Previous investigations in both Africa and Thailand have shown that major highways carry not just goods, but also the deadly virus so it comes as no surprise to discover that truck drivers are spreading HIV around India.

In the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, doctors from the Child Foundation of India say that truck drivers play a fundamental role in spreading HIV quickly throughout the country.

The doctors found that, during journeys, truckers stop at roadside hotels, which usually provide food, rest, alcohol, drugs and sex.

It is there that the truckers pick up sex workers and drop them at the next hotel along their route.

This process then repeats itself back and forth along the highway.

Tests on Indian truck drivers show they have a HIV infection rate of approximately one in 100 - or 20 times the national average.

Researchers say that men over 40 are particularly vulnerable, and that preventive measures are urgently needed.

They suggest free distribution of condoms along national highways, plus further research into how to persuade truck drivers to change hazardous sexual behaviour.

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