News / Asia

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

    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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora