India has the third largest epidemic of AIDS in the world, as 2.1 million of its residents are currently affected. Fortunately, efforts to reduce this number have largely been effective as new infections declined by 27 percent between 2010 and 2017. The groups with the highest reported rates of infection are truckers, female sex workers, homosexual men and injecting drug users. Most projects that have been launched aim to target these populations. India’s Condom Social Marketing Program focuses on making condoms accessible in high risk areas such as truck stops and remote areas.
Groups such as Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha and India’s National AIDS Control Organization have successfully worked with female sex workers. Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha reported that 100 percent of the sex workers in their areas of work attended their free, voluntary HIV testing services, and in 2015 the National AIDS Control Organization had reached 77.4 percent of sex workers with their HIV prevention activities. Historical data shows that organizations like this have had a huge impact reducing AIDS in India. In 2017, new infection cases and AIDS-related deaths increased, by 8,000 and 7,000 respectively. Listed below are three issues that need to be addressed in order to decrease the prevalence of AIDS in India.
Stigma and Discrimination
Many of the populations affected by AIDS already face prejudice and discrimination both legally and socially. Once these groups are known to be affected by AIDs, the surrounding stigma increases. Previous discrimination also means many of these people do not have access to healthcare. For example, although sex work is technically legal in India, brothels are not. This serves as justification for hostile and often abusive treatment of sex workers by police. A 2011 study indicated a correlation between this abuse and increased rate of HIV transmission. Similar challenges are faced by women who are not sex workers but are still often treated as second class citizens because of their gender.
Educating the Young
Looking to the health of future generations, young people must receive education about AIDS and know how to avoid infection. In 2017 only 22 percent of young women between the ages of 15-24 and only 32 percent of young men knew how to prevent AIDS. Fortunately, the Adolescent Education Program and Red Ribbon Clubs are working with schools to improve their sex education curriculum and incorporate lessons on AIDS prevention. Additionally, UNICEF launched a program to provide sex education to children who are not in school.
Reaching the “Dark Areas”
One way that people learn about AIDS prevention methods is through popular media. For example, the National AIDS Control Organization works to increase awareness and condom use by launching radio, social media and television programs. Some rural villages in India that have high infection rates are also considered “dark areas,” because they lack access to these types of mainstream media services. One suggested approach to this issue is to send folk troops door to door in those areas with a rehearsed, entertaining message about AIDS prevention.
The progress to combat AIDS in India throughout the past decade has been impressive. However, considering the recent increase in infection, there is no reason to sit back and relax. Previously established organizations should continue their work and prioritize ending discrimination, bettering education and infiltrating rural areas. Making these changes will not only decrease the prevalence of AIDS, but also improve overall quality of life for people in India.
– Madeline Lyons