HIV/AIDS Epidemic in India
India has the second-largest population of HIV infected individuals. From one case in 1986, the number of HIV infected people in now estimated at 5.1 million.
The HIV prevalence is about 0.92 percent and is maximum in the age group 15-49 years. In spite of being a low prevalence country, in view of the large population, a mere 0.1 percent increase I the prevalence rate would increase the numbers living with HIV infection by over half a million.
One hundred and eleven districts have been classified as high prevalence districts with HIV prevalence and/or more than 5 percent in high-risk behaviour groups. Six states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Manipur, and Nagaland are considered as high prevalence states.
The epidemic is moving from "high risk" behaviour groups and urban centers to the general population and the rural hinterland.
The epidemic has become 'feminized' with more women becoming infected. T he number of women infected is steadily rising - one in every four cases reported is a women.
Over 35 percent of all reported AIDS cases in India occur among young people in the ae group of 15-24 years, indicating that young people are highly vulnerable. Majority are infected through unprotected sex.
A national study by NACO/UNICEF (National Behavioral Surveillance Survey, 2001) among young people (15-24 years) found that there is high level of awareness about HIV especially among urban males. 83 percent respondents knew of at least two correct modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS. Respondent educated beyond Class VIII had highest levels of awareness. However, awareness among rural females was low in Jharkhand, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Misconceptions on certain modes of transmission are widespread. Only 27 percent were aware that a mosquito bite or sharing a meal with an infected person could not transmit HIV. 73 percent of young people were unaware that a healthy looking person could transmit infection.
Awareness of condoms was high. Males had better awareness compared to females in the urban and rural areas. Nearly half of them reported using condom in the last casual sex and consistent condom use was much lower across different sub sections.
Among injecting drug users, the use of sterile injecting equipment was lower among the younger respondents (less than 19 years) compared to older respondents.
More than half the respondents were aware that there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Less than and third reported being aware of STIs. The awareness was uniformly low across all sub populations. Overall, only one in five respondents were aware that STI patients had a higher risk of HIV infection.
Negative attitudes exist towards HIV positive individuals. Less than fifty percent had a positive attitude towards HIV infected persons. Only forty-one percent of young people were willing to share food with infected persons.
Facing the threat of HIV / AIDS
Even though HIV infections are reported in youth below 25 year, majority of young people do not believe that HIV is a threat to them and many others do not know how to protect themselves from it.
Impoverished, unemployed, underemployed, mobile and migrant youth and street children are particularly vulnerable to HIV as they are les likely to have basic information about HIV or access to prevention services. They may face repeated risks of HIV infection through sexual exposure due to coercion or while selling sex in order to survive.
Setting up of the Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCTC) is and important step but adolescents are not aware of these and do not feel comfortable accessing the services.
Reaching youngsters at an impressionable age before thy
become sexually active; can lay the foundations for a responsible lifestyle,
including sex and marriage. (Source: NACO and UNICEF, 2001. Knowledge, attitudes
and practices of young adults (15-24 years); NACO. 2005. India Resolves to
Enable adolescents to protect
become advocates for HIV prevention.