Coming to terms with AIDS in South Asia


by Rohin
23rd November, 2005 at 4:51 am    

A UN report, published yesterday, revealed some shocking statistics about AIDS in 2005.

The stats
The number of people living with HIV worldwide has doubled in a decade to top 40 million for the first time. 3.1 million people will die from HIV/AIDS this year and over half a million of them will be children. Over 1 in 100 of pregnant women across Asia are HIV positive.

  • The sharpest increase in infection rates were in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, rising 25% up to 1.6 million.
  • But, sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst-hit region by quite some distance, with the Caribbean second in league.
  • In Asia, 8.27 million people are HIV positive and the disease is spreading at a faster rate than anywhere else. Most transmissions are via drug use and sex workers.
  • Almost half of Indian sex workers believed they could tell if a person had HIV by looking at them.
  • 1 in 5 of Karachi prostitutes was unable to recognise a condom.

But there was some hope.

  • The prevalence of HIV amongst Kolkata’s sex workers has fallen to below 4% (from 11% in 2001) due to hugely increased condom-use in Sonagachi and infection rates seem to have dropped in parts of Burkina Faso, Haiti, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

The politics
India is repeatedly said to be the site of the next AIDS explosion. Politicians and the media are slowly lumbering into action. But India’s stumbling block remains homosexuality. Whilst heterosexual intercourse is relatively less of a taboo in India, gay sex is still broadly looked down upon. The UN report noted that very little was known about the spread of HIV amongst gay people in India.

6% of male slum-residents in Chennai had had sex with another man and over half of them were married. Out of these 6%, 7% were HIV positive.

Government initiatives have mostly concentrated on high-risk groups, like lorry drivers (who frequent prostitutes regularly) and sex workers, so public perception is that HIV is confined to these groups. AIDS activists insist the government is still not doing enough and that ignorance remains rife, especially with high rates of illiteracy.

The BBC has more in this moving article.

Pakistan does not suffer from as high a prevalence as India, but the government and NGOs have done little to highlight the problem. The first case was reported in 1987, but Dr Asif Mirza from the Family Planning Association of Pakistan says:

We are not actually diagnosing people. The people are not
coming to the surface…Even after 17, 18 years we still talk about stigma and discrimination. And the people who are already diagnosed, we don’t look after them properly. We don’t provide them proper information. We don’t test their families.”

Like in most Muslim countries, HIV/AIDS is very much a taboo subject.

China’s ground zero for AIDS is the Golden Triangle, the region neighbouring Myanmar where heroin crosses the border freely. With the thriving drugs trade, the sex industry has also flourished, with numerous red light districts in the region and across China.

The Chinese government has recently increased the budget allocation to its AIDS project massively, rolling out needle exchange programmes and education campaigns in many urban areas, but those in the Golden Triangle and most of rural China are still completely ignorant to how HIV is transmitted or even what it is.

More on the BBC Aids debate mini-site


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  1. DesiPundit » HIV/ AIDS and South Asia

    [...] Picked Politics on the HIV/ AIDS situation in South Asia. [...]




  1. blue mountain — on 23rd November, 2005 at 6:12 am  

    Guess who is to blame for AIDS

    African simians !!!

    http://www.avert.org/origins.htm

  2. blue mountain — on 23rd November, 2005 at 8:07 am  

    But India’s stumbling block remains homosexuality. Whilst heterosexual intercourse is relatively less of a taboo in India, gay sex is still broadly looked down upon…..

    Nonsense !!!

    India’s stumbling blocks are more basic in nature. Lack of awareness about STD’s,Lack of education, pathetic hygienic condition, poor status of women in society etc.

    AIDS is spreading in India due to unsafe sex involving HIV infected sex workers/clients. (except for North-East where infected syringes are the culprits)

    Condoms! Condoms !

  3. Joanna — on 23rd November, 2005 at 9:27 am  

    World AIDS Day is on 1st December. Visit to find out more about how you can get involved.

    You can show your support for World AIDS Day by wearing the online. We are aiming for 10,000 websites to wear the Virtual Red Ribbon by 1 December 2005.

  4. Siddharth — on 23rd November, 2005 at 9:51 am  

    Guess who is to blame for AIDS

    Lets see, if you’re on Harry’s Place or if its j0nz talking, ah, erm, Muslims?

  5. j0nz — on 23rd November, 2005 at 10:16 am  

    Muslims are not to blame for AIDS!

    Though many Imams in Nigeria think that Polio vaccinations from the West are actually POISON! Which is nice…

  6. Siddharth — on 23rd November, 2005 at 10:25 am  

    j0nz, many Christians believe birth control is the work of the devil. What’s that or the Nigerian Imams got to do with AIDS?

  7. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 10:45 am  

    May be Nigerian imams donthave any thing to with polio. But Imamas from the ghettos of our very own Uttar Pradesh surely do.

  8. Siddharth — on 23rd November, 2005 at 12:23 pm  

    Unfortunately Uttar Pradesh has one of the largest AIDS infected populations in India. Pin that on the Imams? You can try but that would be what j0nz calls emu behaviour.
    What you need is behaviroural changes and targetted intervention. Not sectarian politics.

  9. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 12:31 pm  

    One advice: Read before you type.

    j0nz and i’m talking about polio.

  10. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 12:46 pm  

    SP Singh / Ghaziabad
    Daily Pioneer
    http://www.dailypioneer.com
    2005/09/30
    Posted in full since site does not archive

    In a strange but true incident, health workers, who had gone to vaccinate children against polio in a Muslim dominated locality of Muradnagar town in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh, were roughed up by parents unwilling to protect their children against this deadly disease.

    The residents allegedly manhandled a woman health worker. Her colleague was forced to open her mouth and a phial of vaccine was emptied into it.

    The police have registered a case against six men after the health workers lodged a complaint with the District Magistrate. One person has been arrested.

    According to Dr DP Singh, health officer of the city, a six-member team was administering polio drops to children in Osaf Nagar, a Muslim-dominated area, on Thursday as part of the countrywide pulse polio campaign to eradicate this crippling disease.

    When the health workers knocked on the door of Hasimuddin, a resident of Osaf Nagar, he came out and refused to have his children vaccinated. When the health workers tried to reason with him, he became aggressive and began to push them around. By then, six men from the neighbourhood had joined him.

    Hasimuddin then snatched a phial of vaccine and forcibly poured the contents into the mouth of one of the health workers, Shalu. When the team leader protested, she was manhandled by the crowd. Soon, other residents began pelting stones at the health workers, forcing them to flee.

    The health workers later met District Magistrate Santosh Kumar Yadav and briefed him about the incident. According to them, they routinely face trouble and harassment in Muslim-dominated areas where people are reluctant to vaccinate their children. Mr Yadav instructed the police to register a criminal case and take swift action.

    Statistics show that despite the intensive pulse polio campaign, cases of polio continue to be reported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Most of these cases are reported from Muslim dominated areas.

    So here are the infidel health workers trying to help the poor Muslim children and that is the way they are treated. Now a poor country like India spends tons of money to ensure health and well being of their citizens and these Muslim communities brainwashed by their leaders would undo it. In doing so they not only put their children at risk but also spread risk to rest of the nation and possibly world. Any one to argue against Quarantine for these people till they decide to join civilized world?

  11. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 12:47 pm  

    P.S The comments below arent mine… taken from a discussion forum.

  12. raz — on 23rd November, 2005 at 1:09 pm  

    Funny how a post about AIDS and Asians has quickly become one about Polio and Muslims :)

  13. j0nz — on 23rd November, 2005 at 1:11 pm  

    Well to be fair Siddarth started it Comment #5 ! :)

  14. sonia — on 23rd November, 2005 at 1:26 pm  

    heh heh. Yes generally its really sad about the lack of awareness of HIV/ AIDS. ordinary people all over the world also have certain attitudes which i think get in the way. for example – i dont know if this is true or not – but lots of people i’ve met in blighty suggest that if you have been for an HIV test then its harder to get medical insurance. which sounds very odd to me and possibly not true! But i do know that when i inform people that i’ve had about 3 HIV tests they look at me ‘open-eyed’ and rather shocked. What’s the reason for the ‘open-mouthed’ surprise? Well there is an idea floating about that you wouldn’t have had a test unless you thought you were a ‘high-risk’ individual..

    I thought it quite funny. There are also plenty of people about who think if you’re not black or gay then ( statistically) you’re going to be ok.

    now with attitudes like that floating around…!!

  15. SajiniW — on 23rd November, 2005 at 1:58 pm  

    Rohin – best article you’ve written since Apu – I’ll read it when I get a moment!

    Well done on the Blogged Inclusion too :)

  16. Rohin — on 23rd November, 2005 at 3:57 pm  

    Blue mountain, I didn’t mean to imply India’s ONLY stumbling block is its attitude to homosexuality. Simply that all the valid problems you mention have been recognised by government bodies (that is not to imply that much is being done, but at least they’re being discussed), however unless all modes of transmission are addressed, including gay sex, the virus will continue to spread. Remember, homosexuality is still illegal in India. Homophobia is rife not only in India but amongst NRIs as well. That was the point I was trying to make.

    You also mention the North East – in Nagaland and also in Tamil Nadu i.v. needle use is a major problem.

    Chaps let’s not make this a religious issue. Yes some religious beliefs are counter productive to the AIDS fight, but the main problem remains ignorance (in the developing world).

    Cheers Sajini – I wrote it in a bit of a hurry!

  17. shihab — on 23rd November, 2005 at 5:10 pm  

    Talking of nothing, did anyone read the hidden condom spray in Metro today – the lady sprays it on her vag and voila, no pregnancy. It must work cos it’s made in China, where you mustn’t get pregnant if you already have a kiddie. Talking of even more nothing, with all those only children roaming around, imagine how many attention seekers are in China at the moment. Anyhoo, I’m buying twenty cans from ebay. She will obey

  18. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 5:43 pm  

    Raz (hugs) man i missed u ;)

  19. raz — on 23rd November, 2005 at 6:37 pm  

    Sonia :

    “There are also plenty of people about who think if you’re not black or gay then ( statistically) you’re going to be ok”

    Amazingly, if you’re talking about the UK, this is actually true

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,1565602,00.html

    “Incredibly, there are probably only 184 white, British, heterosexual men and women who have contracted HIV in the UK through having sex with someone from the same demographic group in the last 20 years. Professor Brian Gazzard, one of Britain’s most senior HIV specialists and head of HIV research at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, London, says:

    “The chances of a white woman and a white man getting together on a Saturday night and infecting each other with HIV is tiny.” Our own calculations reveal that that risk is approximately one in 300,000. HIV in the UK is black and it is gay.

    Really startling statistics.

    Vikrant,

    don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere :)

  20. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 6:41 pm  

    Actually i read somewhere because of plague in the 1500′s European men are more resistant to HIV.

  21. The Don — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:05 pm  

    ‘Chaps let’s not make this a religious issue.’

    Oh, c’mon, let’s. Imams, the Vatican, the religious right (and I’m sure others could come up with other examples) are not only hindering the attempts to counter ignorance, they are spreading disinformation and using their clout to keep people in fear and subordination – because religon thrives on fear, ignorance and hate.

    The devout of whatever persuasion just can’t accept that anything – be it earthquake or virus – is simply nothing to do with them.

    If something really crappy happens it must be because God (for excellent reasons you could not possibly understand) wants it. So only by appealing to God, through the medium of your friendly local Sky-pilot, can you hope for a break.

    So those secular rationalists who say that there is another answer are clearly liars and enemies of God. Also ( horror) some of them are women.

    Rohin, by all means let’s not get into a religious pissing contest, but when religion per se is at fault, call it like it is. Show me anywhere in the world where ignorance and bigotry are standing in the way of progress and I’ll show you a God-botherer pulling the strings.

    ( Not literally, of course. This is a wildly generalised statement I could’t possibly back up without hours of red-eyed googling. True nonetheless.)

  22. The Don — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:07 pm  

    blue mountain’

    Guess who is to blame for AIDS

    African simians !!!

    Subtext being…?

  23. Col. Mustafa — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:19 pm  

    I forgot to mention that infact i am the one responsible for AIDS, so can everyone just blame me and shut the fuck up please.

  24. raz — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:23 pm  

    Vikrant, you’re right, it has been shown that people from certain European/Scandanavian backgrounds have a resistance to HIV, this may be due to plague or smallpox.

    BTW The Lancet conducted a study of sexual health in the UK earlier this year.

    Interesting stats about rates of sexually transmitted infections (males):

    19.7 per cent of Black Caribbeans
    16.2 per cent of Black Africans
    10.9 per cent of Whites
    3.4 per cent of Indians
    3.2 per cent of Pakistanis :)

    While South Asia has major sexual health problems, its good to see Asians in the UK not doing so badly.

  25. Col. Mustafa — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:29 pm  

    “While South Asia has major sexual health problems, its good to see Asians in the UK not doing so badly.”

    Thats cos they use condoms when they going around banging [EDITED]

    Or those stats are just bollox; hehehe.

  26. Mirax — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:33 pm  

    I object to the use of the highly offensive word ‘hoes’ .

    SUUUNNNNNY!!!! Where is your censorship now?

  27. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:34 pm  

    well Mustafa dude lets not classify all females as “hoes”.

  28. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:36 pm  

    Mirax,

    Swearing is a part of life. Where maaderchods and bhenchods are tolerated, hoes is … well acceptable.

  29. Rohin — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:42 pm  

    Can someone direct me to where it says a plague 400 years ago confers resistance to a virus that humans only contracted a few decades ago? I’m not disputing it – but I’d like to see the evidence first.

    Don perhaps I should’ve phrased it like you did – I don’t want it to become a religious pissing contest.

    I feel I sometimes have to delcare where I stand as some people (not necessarily referring to you) make assumptions. I am an atheist and I really don’t care for religion. However in places where I have worked in Sri Lanka and India, the ignorance is not due to religion as far as I can tell, it’s due to illiteracy and a lack of education. Now you may say that, as most of the people who really need to know about AIDS and don’t are women, that it is religion that has put women in a lower position in society, ensured they remain illiterate and hence uneducated. I wouldn’t argue with that.

    Religions such as christianity and islam do frequently cause me to get very angry. Such as the wonderful new liberal Pope who knows full well that AIDS is a major problem amongst his flock in S. America, yet says going bareback is God’s way.

    I’m quite up for having a debate about religion and how it can be a nightmare for public health (female circumcision for example), but I’m nervous it’ll become a slanging match. Remember two things though:

    Major threats to health are often unrelated to religion. I don’t believe Thabo Mbeki’s infamous comments were motivated by religion, just stupidity.

    Religious groups do huge amounts of charity health work. Despite my views I have worked with many and with the odd exception I have found them to be inspirational people. Without religious people, health may be worse, not better.

  30. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:51 pm  

    Rohin heres a link: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_plague/

    It seems that structure of HIV and Plague virus is similar and as lague decimated half the european population, goras has higher resistance to it. Just a theory btw.

  31. Vikrant — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:51 pm  

    sorry for tha typos.

  32. Col. Mustafa — on 23rd November, 2005 at 7:52 pm  

    hehehehe, ok sorry.
    My balls hurt as it is, no blender please.

  33. The Don — on 23rd November, 2005 at 11:27 pm  

    Rohin,

    Points taken.

    Actually, I’d noticed that thing you mention; how in grim circumstances religious types often show up well. Infuriatingly, sometimes better than the likes of me. I guess that those who are well inclined towards the world take from their religion that which is good. Unfortunately, pretty much all religions offer a feast to those who are ill inclined.

  34. Sunny — on 23rd November, 2005 at 11:36 pm  

    Oh, c’mon, let’s. Imams, the Vatican, the religious right (and I’m sure others could come up with other examples) are not only hindering the attempts to counter ignorance, they are spreading disinformation and using their clout to keep people in fear and subordination – because religon thrives on fear, ignorance and hate.

    Don – ain’t that the truth!!

    BTW – I’ve taken out the bad language. Referring women to as hoes is not acceptable in my nice world :|

  35. The Don — on 23rd November, 2005 at 11:52 pm  

    Thanks Sunny,

    (The bad language thing wasn’t me. I hate that whole ‘hoes’ shit. )

  36. Col. Mustafa — on 24th November, 2005 at 12:04 am  

    Sorry the non pc thing from barfi kinda just carried on my part.

  37. Siddharth — on 24th November, 2005 at 12:40 am  
  38. shihab — on 24th November, 2005 at 1:48 am  

    Depends Sid if you see your flymo as a woman really

  39. Siddharth — on 24th November, 2005 at 10:10 am  

    To paraphrase the Great Man; Some hoes are bigger than others.

  40. sonia — on 24th November, 2005 at 3:22 pm  

    ah but see the Imams don’t really know what they’re on about anyway they generally dont like women to have too many ‘rights’ and that’s why they seem to be opposed to this. completely against their religion by the way..which if anything emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself and hygiene etc. ( and its not just islam as a lot of prejudiced people seem to think! lots of the olde olde eastern-y type cultures/ideas emphasize this..) in the old days everyone who hung about the desert appreciated the importance of water.

    ramble: my point was simply mullah-types ( nasty old conservative men for the most part – what do the Vatican and the mullahs have in common- ha ha!) like to distort any religion/idea/ for their own power and dodgy ideas.

    of course ignorance and silly assumptions just make this sort of thing much more likely!

  41. Sakshi — on 24th November, 2005 at 6:21 pm  

    Something on the same lines….

    Lets talk about sex

  42. jamal — on 24th November, 2005 at 11:52 pm  

    The blame and suspician of various groups at the beginning of comments surprises me. such fingerpointing in the past allowed the aids to spread as everybody thought it was somebody elses disease. Aids is now so widespread its presently irrelavant where it started or by whom. It has now touched every race, culture and nation on earth. The risk now affect us all and those we love!

  43. jamal — on 27th November, 2005 at 12:00 am  

    On a side note i read this about 15,000 cases of hepititis in baghdad being spread by infested water supplies. Iassume this can (is) happen(ing) elsewhere and can therefore lead to increased cases of hepititis which can be spread sexually too, which can add to the aids problem in ters of std problems.

  44. Rohin — on 27th November, 2005 at 2:00 am  

    Thing is though jamal, this is probably Hep A, which is spread by dirty water etc (along with Hep E), whereas the sexually-transmitted Hepatites are C and B/D.

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