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Misconceptions about HIV transmission abound

Special Correspondent

— Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

DISCUSSING THE FINDINGS: (From left) Praneeta Verma, director, Programme Support, APAC; N. S. Murali, honorary secretary, VHS; Supriya Sahu, AIDS Control Society Project Director; and Robert Clay, USAID representative, at a meeting in Chennai on Thursday.

CHENNAI: While increasing awareness of one or more modes of HIV transmission has given a boost to the intervention programme in the State, the latest Behaviour Surveillance Study conducted by AIDS Prevention and Control Project in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry indicates that misconceptions abound.

Awareness of two acceptable ways of preventing HIV is 100 per cent among female sex workers in urban and rural areas and other high risk groups such as men who have sex with men in Pondicherry and urban Tamil Nadu, according to the study. Risk perception among those indulging in unsafe sex has increased in most of the 13 high-risk groups studied.

Knowledge decreasing

However, what is worrying is that despite increased awareness, misconception-free knowledge is decreasing among certain groups. Some of the misconceptions include the belief that washing sexual organs with soda, ash, neem leaves or turmeric will prevent transmission, and that sharing toilets and mosquito bites can transmit the virus.

The use of condoms by female sex workers has gone up significantly compared with the previous years, especially in rural locations. But, it has remained static in urban areas. While the use has increased among one-time clients, sex workers seem to be lax with regulars. Again, condom use by the regular partner (husband/live-in partner) has continued the downward trend over the years.

Presenting the findings of the survey at a meeting here, Chandra Mohan, project director, APAC, said the BSS, started with an initial sample of 6,000 respondents, had grown to 24,000 respondents.

Two phases

The survey, completed in two phases — between October 2006 and February 2007 —studied high-risk behaviour among female sex workers, truckers, factory and migrant workers, aravanis, male youth in slums, MSM, injecting drug users and students.

Attitude towards HIV-affected persons had substantially improved in the last decade but was still nowhere near the desired levels, Mr. Mohan said.

Praneeta Verma, director, Programme Support, APAC, said BSS attempted to measure the following indicators: knowledge, sexual and injecting drug use behaviour, health seeking behaviour, risk perception, voluntary testing, stigma and discrimination and exposure to intervention.

Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society Project Director Supriya Sahu chaired the discussions that followed the dissemination of information. Voluntary Health Services honorary secretary N.S. Murali and USAID representative Robert Clay were present.

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