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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
India fights to promote condoms
By Monica Chadha
BBC reporter in Bombay

The issue of sex and condoms are taboo in most homes
The authorities face an uphill struggle in some parts of India as they battle to control Aids by promoting condom usage.

With India having the second highest number of HIV infections after South Africa, the government has launched several nationwide programmes to promote condom use.

One of the hotspots for transmission of the disease is in Bombay, where nearly 6,000 prostitutes and sex workers live in just one red-light area, Kamathipura.

Many prostitutes in the area - and in other parts of India - are struggling to survive and do not rate use of condoms as a priority.

These women live in utter squalor, many come from poor backgrounds and offer their services for less than a dollar per hour. If a client is willing to give them more money, they readily agree to not use a condom

Dr Shilpa Merchant has been working with these sex workers for the past 12 years and says the message of safe sex and consistent condom usage is still to catch on.

"The social situation is such that for her, the next meal is more important than getting HIV positive and then dying a few years later.

"It's not an immediate problem for her, it's not an immediate concern and that's an issue, because getting money from a client is more important for survival and if he is willing to pay more, she is willing to take that - to not use condoms."

Increased awareness

Some prostitutes are getting the message.

One who had been a sex worker for 18 years said: "I always use a condom and even if a client doesn't want me to use one, even if he offers me more money, I refuse to entertain him."

Although there has been an increased awareness about AIDS, it has not translated into big business for the condom manufacturers.

Sales have actually dipped in the last two years and continue to fall.

According to a survey done by an Indian research company, condom sales have dropped by 5% in the last year alone.

Troubling factor

Vinayak Sukhtankar, who works for a condom company, said Indians associate condoms with unwanted pregnancy instead of AIDS prevention.

"One of the things that has been revealed in the last two surveys is I think about 85% of the customers still [just] use a condom for preventing pregnancy.

"So I am not so sure how much impact has been caused by the Aids campaign.

"But it is also a troubling factor because if you are saying that less that 10% of the people are using it for that purpose, well then there is an opportunity. But somehow it is not getting converted into sales, the way we see it."

An advert promoting condoms is currently being shown on Indian television, but issues of sex and condoms continue to remain a taboo in most Indian homes.

China, India face Aids disaster
03 Jul 03  |  Health
India Aids awareness urged
26 Nov 02  |  Health
India 'can prevent Aids epidemic'
14 Nov 02  |  South Asia

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