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`AIDS has penetrated Indian society'

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, OCT. 28. "HIV/AIDS has penetrated the Indian society and we are now seeing the virus prevalent in single monogamous women and children," said the Union Secretary for Health and Family Welfare, J.V.R. Prasad Rao, at a workshop sponsored by the U.S.-based Kaiser Family Foundation here on Wednesday.

"HIV/AIDS is being spread by men through their irresponsible sexual behaviour, but it is the women who suffer the most and are left with shame and stigma," he added.

The workshop on "Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS" saw the participation of senior health officials and functionaries engaged in the sector.

Speaking about the situation in the country, the Director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), S.Y. Quraishi, said: "More than 60 per cent of the people know that condoms prevent transmission of HIV, but only 5 per cent use condoms regularly. People are very nervous about going into a shop to buy condoms. We must point out that buying a condom is not embarrassing. In other parts of the world, as more people began using condoms the spread of HIV also began to slow down. We need to have a similar aggressive condom promotion drive to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS in India."

According to NACO, by 2010 an estimated 9 million Indians will be infected by HIV/AIDS. In India, the virus is spread mostly through unsafe sex practices. Dr. Quraishi said: "Public education plays the key role in safeguarding the general population."

Bringing out yet another important aspect of the spread of the virus and the trauma an HIV-positive woman has to undergo, Ryan Fernandes of Sahara House engaged in the service of HIV-positive women and children explained: "Women are often victims of violence related to AIDS where they are thrown out of the house they are staying in and are left with little money and sometimes also burdened with the responsibility of their `positive' children. There are a few agencies in the Capital including Lawyers Collective engaged in providing legal help to women. But the condition of the women is such that they are left with no rights and almost no legal help. They are also often subjected to violence at home but are unable to use their rights for the fear of exposing their HIV-positive status."

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