Urban youth most vulnerable to HIV & AIDS

AIDS Ribbon
AIDS Ribbon

The epidemic of HIV/AIDS in India has reached to a figure close to 2-3 million. The government and various other NGOs are trying their best to control the numbers. But a gloomy picture has been emerging from the IT/BPO sectors of India. Call centers where an estimated 1.3 million youth – mostly fresh out of college – are currently employed, are now said to be the new high risk areas of HIV and AIDS. Though data is still being collected – many activists agree that HIV infection is increasing steadily among the IT, BT, call centre and BPO employees.

I was doing some research and reading articles on internet on the same topic for last few days when I came across few real accounts. I was perplexed by the same.

“I did make out initially with one of my male colleagues. Sex, for all its overtones, was a great stress buster, nothing more and definitely not for money. After a few months, having a guy to go out with became one of those things on my ‘must do’ lists. But somewhere along the line, the line stressed out, perhaps more because of my financial weakness. Today, if someone’s willing to pay me well for something, I might not decline the offer! Who knows when I’ll lose my job! My friends already have. But with my ’part time’ job, I’m saving at least a lakh every month,” says a BPO employee.

Dr Suniti Solomon, credited with the first HIV case in India in 1986, in an interview to a magazine TSI (The Sunday Indian) says that around five call centre/BPO employees from Chennai visit her every week to undergo HIV tests.

The Wall Street Journal had warned of Indian call centres and BPOs becoming HIV risk areas back in 2006 itself! It referred to a study conducted in February 2006, which found that 11 per cent of the 1,100 workers at a particular call centre and outsourcing business in Noida have had more than five sexual partners. (By contrast, a separate study found that only seven per cent of 1,300 adults across the country said they had more than five sexual partners.)

So what are the reasons that this section of youth is so vulnerable to the infection?

Call centres and BPOs are the sectors that accommodate the highest number of youth. They are sexually active and the lifestyle, odd working hours may contribute to it. Men and women live alone and work in close quarters. Indian call centre industry is waking up to this new BPO-bonding. BPO units are turning into hubs where inter-personal bonding takes place. And often, this bonding takes a sexual turn. There is reason to believe that their vulnerability to AIDS is genuine.

A Telegraph-MODE survey conducted in Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore some time back demonstrates that call centre employees let off steam by holding wild parties and seek physical comfort with the opposite sex. In Mumbai, 89 per cent people polled said they regularly attend wild parties and 74 per cent (55 per cent in Bangalore) said they seek the company of the opposite sex.

A BPO employee based in Pune in an interview to TSI told that they devote weekends for exciting experiments. “Having multiple sex partners has existed for some time now. But now, even group sex is gaining popularity. Weekends are devoted to such ‘experiments’ by promiscuous people, both married and single.

An unofficial swapping club exists in one of the well known MNC where the members meet once a month, usually on Fridays, in resorts in the city outskirts. After cocktails, the game starts. All the wives sit in their respective cars; the cars are locked and the keys are put in a basket. Then, the blindfolded husbands pick the car keys. Which lady they take home for the night depends on the keys they get. After a night of fun, they return the cars and wives to their respective owners.”

Dr Satish who was invited to hold talks on HIV and AIDS during an awareness programme for IT, BT sector four years ago says “But everyone present there were well aware of the modes of HIV transmission and its consequences. The company had called me because their toilets used to get clogged with condoms!” During his interaction with the participants, he found out that while 10 per cent of the male employees preferred their spouse to be a virgin, virginity was not really an issue with 80 per cent of the female employees who felt ‘that’ could be easily fixed with Hymenoplasty, a hymen reconstruction surgery.

The increasing number of HIV cases among urban, well educated and financially stable people debunks the myth of illiteracy and poverty being the greatest hurdles in our war against HIV and AIDS. It will be hard to believe that they dont know about HIV/AIDS. But sadly their chalta hai attitude and easy access of everything is the reason that drives these people to risky behaviour. Youth are part of our system and future of this country but they are themselves indulging in the self-damaging activities. You can not blame the western culture either because the today’s youth is well aware of pros and cons of everything. Probably, the lack of morality, the proper mindset and abstinence will soon make India country with highest number of HIV infected people.

The government must ensure that more concrete steps are taken and companies should also try to educate their employees and this should not be mere tokenism. HIV and AIDS awareness programmes should not be restricted only to rural areas; it should also encompass the ‘literate uneducated’ sections of the urban society.

Government says its criminal to be Gay

The decision taken by the union government of not to scrap the Section 377 of the Indian Penal code which considers homosexuality to be a criminal offense has come as a huge setback to the Gay community and the human rights groups supporting their cause.
The law against homosexuals in India states,
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”
Homosexuals have always been discriminated against in our country and have found no political backing whatsoever. No political party has ever come in support of them and it has only been the Indian Film Industry and some NGO’s that have been fighting for their rights.
Meanwhile, the government has put an end to the debate where the century old laws relating to homosexuals be changed by categorically denying that such a change is needed. The law as it stands has not served any purpose for barely have any homosexuals been convicted in the last few years but they have always been discriminated against ad even blackmailed for their sexual orientation.
What is ironical is that the law against homosexuals in India has been present from the time of the colonial rule when India were under the British rule. The British for that matter themselves realized their folly and changed the law way back in 1967 and even went on to allow gay marriages in the UK from the year 2005 onwards. The move created a rage of gay marriages in the UK with more than five thousand gay couples getting married on the made the new law came into effect. The law in UK made in the year 1967 goes on to say,
(a) a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto and have attained the age of sixteen years
(b) A homosexual act by any person shall not be an offence if he is under the age of sixteen years and the other party has attained that age.
But the Indian government has yet restrained from changing the laws though the british woke up to their mistake more than forty years back. Prime minister Manmohan Singh was once asked by a journalist as to what he thought of the new law in Canada to allow Gay marriages, tow hich the Indian prime minister said, “there would not be much appreciation for a law like that in India”
The Ministry of Health under Ambumani Ramadoss has also come out in support of the Gay groups by stating that with the present laws there are more chances of people catching the AIDS virus. The National AIDS control in a report filed to the government stated that in the case of homosexuals, the chances of AIDS are higher because they are reluctant to accept this is front of society and hence such discussions are always pushed below the carpet. The report also stated that almost seventy percent of homosexuals know about the dangers of AIDS but yet only thirty six percent use condoms.
On one side the Indian government is hell bent on reducing the chances of people contracting AIDS by their condom campaign, but on the other side they do not want to change the present laws. When in June this year, there were Gay parades in the Indian capital several anti gay groups had tried to get that scrapped as well but the parades went on as planned. The gay community has been begging and protesting against the present laws for they are not only discriminatory but are against the rules of any civilized society. For the time being the gay community will have to keep pushing until their demands get met.

Uttar Pradesh: The epicentre of Polio in India

Pulse Polio, an immunization campaign was established by the Government of India in 1994 to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio) in India by vaccinating all children under the age of five, against polio virus. However, a sharp rise in polio cases in India’s largest state has raised fears of the return of a disease that the country was close to wiping out, just three years ago. The health outlook for millions of Indians for 2008 may not be all that bright as experts say that the country will continue battling major diseases like AIDS, polio, malaria and tuberculosis besides concerns like infant and maternal mortality. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Union Health Ministry were optimistic about curbing the polio virus. However, as the year 2007 drew to an end, India continued to be the hot bed for polio, with 590 cases as against 676 cases in 2006. This has dealt another blow to the already crumbling public health infrastructure and delivery. There have been no polio cases reported from Kerala and Punjab in 2007. On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar top the list of the polio affected states in India.

PolioThe World Health Organisation (WHO) has described Uttar Pradesh as the “epicenter of the polio epidemic” in the world. As per WHO estimates, the State accounts for 64 per cent of all polio cases reported worldwide. The increase has not just been due to mismanagement at the Government level; there are also other factors responsible for it. One such factor is the people’s apathy to such campaigns, which lack credibility. Besides, lack of information about the polio vaccine being administered and its availability is also greatly responsible for the increase.

An alarming factor is the resistance of people belonging to the minority community, especially those from the lower income groups, to vaccinate their children. Apparently, there is a belief that the polio vaccine causes impotency. Other factors responsible for the resurgence of the epidemic in Uttar Pradesh are the high density of population and the lack of awareness about the pulse polio campaign. Extensive publicity campaigns, involving film and cricket personalities, have mitigated the opposition to a great extent but still the cases are on the rise. It is very important for the Government to now formulate a proper strategy with the political and religious leaders alongside, to counter the rising cases of polio in Uttar Pradesh. Dispelling superstition should be accomplished by roping in local health workers to convince clerics who propagate against the vaccination drive. To control the menace from spreading its tentacles any further, we need to adopt a need-based approach and more scientific methods.

National AIDS project in whose Aid?

Corruption, misappropriation and financial irregularities are some of the accusations made by the World Bank on the Maharashtra Government. Media can play a vital role in highlighting such scams to ensure that the corrupt people be punished severely. Continue reading National AIDS project in whose Aid?

World AIDS Day in India

Today is World AIDS Day!

Brief History
World AIDS Day was established by WHO in 1988. This day provides governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic.

Red ribbon is International symbol of HIV and AIDS awareness. We are flaunting one in this post. Red Ribbon

As per UN estimations, 5.7 million of 33.2 HIV-infected people worldwide reside in India. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka are states with highest number of HIV positive cases. Andhra Pradesh is planning to make a new law that makes it compulsory for the couples to take HIV test before marriage.

India is largest producer of cheap ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) that are used in AIDS treatment. Yet most people in India can not afford it. :( Sections of society most affected with AIDS in India are sex workers, truck drivers, gays, and injecting drug users. Yet this disease is not confined to them.

What We can do?
The slogan for 2007 World AIDS Day is “Take the Lead. Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” Be part of those who are building better tomorrow.

World AIDS Day Poster

Here is a mini guide about what we can do to stop AIDS menace in India:

1. Indulge in safe sex always. Pass the awareness around.
2. Sex education is banned in several states. Campaign to reinstate sex education in schools. This is important considering the number of children who get afflicted by AIDS every year indulging in unsafe sex.
3. Fight not only AIDS, but also the stigma attached with the disease. Most people suffer AIDS in silence due to the fear of being shunned in society. Some of them are denied their right to live with dignity due to their AIDS infection.
4. Pass on the awareness that medicines are now available that prevent transfer of AIDS infection from pregnant mothers to their children. Most women do not request the medicine, even after treatment to prevent mother-to-child-transmission because of the stigma attached with the disease.
5. Join Stop AIDS in children campaign. Every year 330, 000 children die of AIDS. Lets take steps to save them. Again this is possible by stopping mother-to-child-transmission of infection.

Related Posts:
FAQs about AIDS
HIV-AIDS Do’s and Don’ts
HIV-AIDS stats in India

I also write at Visceral Observations.