News / Asia

In South Asia, Efforts to Halt Spread of HIV Make Headway

TEXT SIZE - +

A quarter century after the first HIV cases were detected in India, efforts to halt the spread of the virus are making headway in South Asia.  But ignorance and stigma surrounding the disease still remain major stumbling blocks in a region where poverty and illiteracy are widespread. 

Outreach program brings about awareness

Thousands of people from villages and towns in Assam, turned up to see what the seven-coach 'Red Ribbon Express' train had to offer, as it chugged across the remote north eastern state earlier this month.

The train, which has counseling and medical services, and a troupe of artists on board, is traveling across India to sensitize people about HIV.  

Rakhi Chakraborty is assistant director of the Assam AIDS Control Society.  She says exhibits on the train, street plays and other programs demonstrate how the virus is contracted and transmitted, as well as what treatments are available.

"So many people visited and those people, they really took interest.  They have seen the whole train.  They asked so many questions.  There were so many people who came for counseling voluntarily.  They came for testing also," Chakraborty said.

Targeted population

For a quarter century after the first HIV cases were diagnosed in India, populous cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai were the epicenter of the battle against AIDS.  Here, prevention programs targeted the most vulnerable groups such as sex workers, truckers and migrant labor.  

But, as the virus spreads through the heart of the country, initiatives such as the 'Red Ribbon Express' are trying to end ignorance or overcome stigma attached to AIDS in remote areas and villages.     

South Asia has an estimated three million people living with the AIDS virus.  A majority of them are in the region's most populous country, India, which has the third largest number of people living with HIV in the world, after South Africa and Nigeria.

After a slow start in tackling HIV, India began making serious efforts to confront the problem in recent years.  These efforts have yielded dividends, especially in southern states where prevalence was the highest.  

Program Coordinator Asa Andersson, at UNAIDS in New Delhi, says there is a "decreasing trend" in the prevalence of AIDS.  "We can say that the epidemic is stabilizing and in certain parts also decreasing. So you see a declining rate of HIV prevalence in the country, so in that sense I think it is positive," he said. 

Positive strides apparent, but warning against complacency

However, health workers warn against complacency. They say that, although fears that HIV would spiral out of control have ebbed, serious challenges remain.

Suniti Solomon, has been on the frontlines of the fight against AIDS since 1986, when she helped detect India's first HIV cases in the southern state, Tamil Nadu.

Solomon says the profile of the patients at the center she runs for HIV patients in Chennai has changed.  Earlier, a majority of her patients were truckers and sex workers.  Now they are injecting drug users and men having sex with men.   

India recently scrapped a law outlawing homosexuality.  But even now, Solomon says many men prefer not to talk about their sexual preferences.

"In India they won't come and tell you they are gay," Solomon said. "Gay people are getting married and they lead a bisexual life.  So to get a history out of them is very difficult, but we try our best. Unfortunately they also transmit the virus to their partners, that is their wives and, then, on to their children."

Extending prevention program to include more groups

Asa Andersson at UNAIDS says India needs to target more prevention and treatment programs at groups where the incidence of HIV is still a big concern, such as injecting drug users, young female sex workers and homosexuals. "Where they need to focus more is of course to increase the coverage among these groups," Andersson says. "I think the crucial heart to reach among the population, among this group, need further attention."

For many volunteers involved in the fight against AIDS, the most important concern has not changed since the first HIV case came to light -- the need to cajole more people to determine if they carry the AIDS virus.

Suniti Solomon says about half the people living with HIV are not even aware of it. "Most important, I think they should focus on voluntary counseling, testing.  Though India has about 4,000 voluntary counseling, testing centers all over the country, very few really come up, because of stigma again to have a test done," Solomon said.  "So I think it should be a community mobilization to help people to come up for testing."

That is exactly what the 'Red Ribbon Express' hopes to do, as it winds its way through the country for the rest of the year.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid