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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Has South Asia faced up to Aids?

Twenty years ago this week, Aids was recognised as an illness by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

Since then, the world has witnessed many NGO and government initiatives, but South Asia remains one of the worst affected regions in the world.

And the problem - particularly in India - is growing at an alarming rate. There are currently between three and five million people in India living with HIV, the virus which causes Aids.

So why has it got to this stage? Has enough been done to raise awareness? Is behaviour changing? Are attitudes to sex changing? And what does this mean for the future?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

In my opinion, the problem is mainly due to lack of sex education in India. Sex education should be provided in the early school years. I believe, the problem is also due to westernisation of the culture without understanding the bad effects on the society. Political leaders in India have a strong hold on people, but they are also not uniting to fight against this calamity.
Mandar Gandhe, India/UK

India is sitting on a proverbial volcano

M. Balaram, India/ USA
India is sitting on a proverbial volcano. As a medical student in India in the late eighties, I remember first learning about Aids and HIV in the national newspapers. We were not given any information about the disease in our curriculum nor was there any curiosity about this new disease other than the fact that it was an illness of western homosexuals. While India forges ahead in information technology, space exploration and the nuclear arms-race, it is sadly neglecting the health and well-being of its citizens. Health education, including sex education must be given greater emphasis in our schools and colleges. Women's education and empowerment must be furthered on a war footing. The primary goals of clean drinking water and basic health services for all must be realised. Nuclear warheads and satellites in outer space will not amount to much if we don't fight and win the war on disease and ignorance.
M. Balaram, India/ USA

Aids is caused by ignorance which is caused by poverty which is caused by huge foreign debts and the abuse of power.
Sheharyar, Canada

Everyone thinks that it is someone else's problem

James Varghese, India
The number of Aids awareness programmes in India goes on increasing. However, the belief system remains the same. Now, even when the HIV virus is spreading, the attitude of people remains unchanged and as a result, Aids becomes a social problem. In other words, everyone thinks that it is someone else's problem, and the realisation comes only when it is too late.
James Varghese, India

In a country steeped in tradition and sexual repression of women, Aids and a lack of social awareness will only make the problem worse. Everyone here thinks it's a disease from the West, mainly restricted to drug users and high-risk behaviour people. The fact is that Aids is poised to wipe out a generation of people in Africa thanks to the same attitude. India doesn't appear to be any more aware of the magnitude of the problem than Africa was 10 years ago.
Lakshmi K, a doctor, Bangalore, India

I think the greatest danger with the spreading of aids in this region comes from using contaminated blood, other biological material, and medical equipment whether local, imported, or donated from other countries. This is where aids prevention efforts should focus and use their resources the most.
Amit Kumar, India

It can really make a difference if some relevant steps are taken in this direction

Gaurav Gupta, India
I keep myself informed about government plans for controlling diseases such as Aids. The popular method of bringing awareness to the masses is through television or newspapers. But what can you do when only 60% of the population can read and only 47% have access to television? In my opinion, the best way to ensure awareness amongst the people is through broadcasting informational programmes on the radio. In India, radio penetrates effectively into the vast population. It can really make a difference if some relevant steps are taken in this direction. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Is it worth a try? You bet.
Gaurav Gupta, India

As long as India thinks of Aids as a foreign disease, or one confined to sex-workers, truck drivers and homosexuals there is little chance of it being confronted as a pandemic.
Mo Ahmed, USA

Unfortunately, India is on the brink of an Aids epidemic, surpassing sub-Saharan Africa in magnitude. It is a very difficult problem to tackle because it addresses a subject in India that is taboo. Unless you change Indian society itself and its behaviour, the outcome will be failure.
John, Germany

Human belief systems are very difficult to change

Jane, USA
Aids in India resembles Aids everywhere else. The degree of infection is exactly proportional to human behaviour and whether it is ignorance, defiance, fatalism, the risk behaviours continue. My doctoral research on Aids in India showed even ten years ago that the infectivity rate was rising, not the least reason being the continuing use of infected blood from HIV positive pavement dwellers. On paper the Government had a great plan to contain the epidemic but not much had been implemented. Human belief systems are very difficult to change, to which you may add the realities of an overwhelmed healthcare system, and you have certain disaster. There have been valiant efforts by individual medical workers to change thinking about infectious disease and sexual practice but it has been, and remains, a very tough battle.
Jane, USA

The Bangladeshi government in its Aids awareness messages desperately tries to avoid the word "homosexuality" while warning against such practises. The coy language it uses is quite funny. Especially when, just like most other parts of the world, this not such an unheard of practice in this country at all. The government's coyness and pretence of sensitivity is rather dangerous. The gay population is not getting the health messages clearly.
Arif, Bangladesh

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
02 Jul 99 | Aids
What is Aids?
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