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Do not lower guard: epidemiologists

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, DEC. 1. The Government's announcement on World AIDS Day today that HIV prevalence in the State came down from 1.25 per cent in 2002 to 0.63 per cent in 2004 has been received with restrained joy.

While decreasing prevalence rates are cause for celebration in the long battle against the virus, epidemiologists warn against complacence and advocate a cautious approach. At a meeting of the Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society here, its project director, S. Vijayakumar, said the latest surveillance reports among ante-natal mothers indicated the drop in the prevalence rate. The Society remained vigilant on prevention awareness and already expanded its activities to include care and treatment.

UNICEF caution

The United National Children's Fund regional representative, Tim Schaffter, complimented the Tamil Nadu Government on its excellent response to the epidemic, resulting apparently in the drop in prevalence rates. "While statistics are important, we must be cautious in drawing conclusions. We must look at the prevalence rate in young people — it is an area of concern."

Educating youth

The VHS-APAC director, P. Krishnamurthy, emphasised the importance of providing sex education to youth and the need to focus on "women and girls," the United Nations theme for this year.

The Health Minister, Thalavai Sundaram, showcased upgrading of infrastructure for treatment and testing of positive persons. He also highlighted the successes of the Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University's experiments with expectant mothers in Namakkal.

Awareness cells

At another function organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Anna University here, the Vice-chancellor, E. Balagurusamy, said there were plans to start an AIDS awareness and control cell in each of the affiliated (250) colleges. The cell could adopt a village in its vicinity and students could educate people on AIDS.

Corporate walk

Early this morning, corporate leaders, executives and college and school students joined the United States Consul-General in south India, Richard Haynes, in a World AIDS Day Corporate Walk organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on Kamaraj Salai.

The CII is taking an active part in the AIDS awareness initiatives in partnership with the APAC. The confederation is targeting a 50,000-strong workforce in over 150 industries to spread awareness.

YRG Care and Standard Chartered organised a Red Ribbon march for college students in the city. They will continue their activites at Cafe Coffee Day, Ispahani Centre, Nungambakkam, on December 4 and at Anna Nagar the next day. Other campaign sites are placed all over the city at much-frequented outlets.

All college buses led to the Image Auditorium at MRC Nagar. With college students coming there in busloads to participate in an "Inter-Collegiate Awareness Workshop on HIV/AIDS," it did seem the most happening place in Chennai.

Over 1,500 students from about 15 city colleges registered their presence and evinced interest in the workshop, inaugurated a couple of days before World AIDS Day.

Inaugurating the workshop, Mr. Sundaram advised students to keep themselves abreast of the developments in HIV/AIDS and to behave "responsibly."

Toll-free helpline

The medical university Vice-Chancellor, C.V. Bhirmanandham, said a toll-free helpline for students who had queries on HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases would be set up in the university. "We want the students to understand the language, not the jargon, and the concepts in sexual health and HIV/AIDS," according to N.M. Samuel, professor and coordinator of the programme. The university hoped to be able to stay in touch with the students, mailing them information on the advances in HIV/AIDS treatment in simple language regularly, he said.

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