India is presently the world's leader in HIV/AIDS. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS estimates 3 million Indian citizens are infected with HIV. Approximately two-thirds of the AIDS infections in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The combination of illiteracy, limited medical care, and cultural taboos on the topic of sex greatly hinder prevention and education efforts.
The Indian Health Organization, a voluntary group active in AIDS research and awareness campaigns, offers a horrific prognosis: under the likely assumption that the number of infections will double every 18 months, in four years there will be 20 million to 50 million HIV-positive Indians--as much as 5% of the population--and the death toll could be 6,000 to 12,500 a day.
HIV/AIDS joins these as well as the 1.5 million tuberculosis cases threatening the lives of Indians every year. The realistic threat which the disease poses to each individual is masked by the delayed onset of HIV/AIDS symptoms. It is difficult to see the present danger of AIDS when citizens are being daily threatened by tuberculosis, malaria, and dysentery. In most cases, yet far, AIDS is rarely diagnosed as the cause of death but rather is attributed to a secondary infection. Both government and health agencies admit to a problematic level of underreporting.
A large number of Indian politicians and health
officials are in a state of denial over the epidemic. In Mumbai, the epicenter
of HIV/AIDS in India, politicians and police officials work in conjunction
with the mafia which runs the extremely profitable and notorious flesh
trade. India has an estimated 10 million prostitutes with 100,000 of them
just in Mumbai. The mafia and politicians exchange overall protection for
cash payoffs and large donations to campaigns. Many politicians view sex
workers as an expendable commodity. 1 An almost non-existent
divorce rate lies as part of the backbone of Indian culture. However, one
third of those who do visit brothels are young men who are just a few years
away from marriage. The epidemic is no longer confined to major cities
like Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta. Migrant workers searching for employment
along with cross-country truck drivers have been contributing to the spread
of HIV in the countryside.
Prevention and Education Efforts:
India is now only supplied with about 1 billion condoms a year which is a rather small amount considering the population of 844 million plus.
The most recent angle of attack on the war on AIDS is through the recruitment of barbers. It is said that men are too embarrassed to buy condoms at drugstores or through doctors yet the barbershop is one place where they feel comfortable enough to talk freely . The program was launched in Madras last March with almost 5,000 barbers enlisted. They receive AIDS education at meetings each Tuesday, their day off. In blue-collar areas of Madras, it is said that men prefer a special shave before visiting prostitutes. Barbers are then able to counsel the men as well as providing condoms on their way out. The barbers are not paid to be AIDS counselors but seem to be proud of their "new responsibility"2.
In Tamil Nadu, the state with the third-highest HIV incidence, movie screens are assisting in prevention. AIDS-awareness announcements have been paid to appear on half of the state’s 630 theatres. The state was the first to introduce AIDS education in high schools and the first to set up an information hotline.
Women and HIV/AIDS in India:
Women of the World
Prostitution and the Sex Industry:
India-Bangladesh sex trade
Treatment and Healing:
The new combinations of treatment which have largely given hope to Western nations are largely irrelevant to most of the Indian population. "Right now, protease therapy costs about $20,000 per person per year. Many of the countries that have the worst epidemics have per capita health expenditures of $5 to $7," says Dr. Seth Berkley of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The medications are so expensive that only the extremely wealthy will be able to benefit. Traditionally, India has been largely accepting of alternative healing methodologies with spirituality and religion being instrumental in India's identity. Very little documentation exists on alternative healing treatments for HIV/AIDS but it can be rationally inferred that methodologies such as yoga and acupuncture, which are well-embraced for other diseases, are being used in HIV/AIDS treatment. The biomedical community in India is still facing obstacles in trying to educate physicians who fear contracting the disease from their patients. With the watchful eye of the United Nations and World Bank, the Indian government is now financially supporting health care efforts in the major HIV risk regions.
Internet International Directory
Indian Board of Alternative Medicines
General Treatment Info
National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project
Recent study on a clinic in Pune
General summary of current situation in India
Global history and epidemiology on the epidemic
World Health Organization home page
Regional line graph
Clickable statistical map
Community Based Organizations:
AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan
Post Box 5308
New Delhi 110 053, India
Community work in issues of education, health, law, women, gay men and lesbians, professional blood donors, and drug abusers.
South India AIDS Action Programme
Tel: (91-14) 41-68-86
Gram Bharati Samiti
S-3, Govind Nagar (West)
Jaipur 302 002
Tel: (91-141) 62560
Project for women sex workers and their families throughout Rajasthan.
Population Services International
FWT & RC
322 S V P Road
Mumbai 400 004
Tel: (91-22) 388-1724
Education and prevention center for sex workers including condom distribution and out-reach programs. Workshops with brothel owners and media campaigns are also integral elements of the organization.
Indian Health Organisation
Municipal School Building
J.J. Hospital Compound
Mumbai 400 008
Tel: (91-22) 371-0819
A mobile clinic that goes through red-light districts in order to offer STD treatments and clincial services, education for sex workers, and support programs.
AIDS Research Foundation of India
20/2 Bhagirathy Ammal Street
Madras 600 017
Condom campaign among clients of sex workers on roadsides of Madras.
1."India’s shame": Robert I.Friedman, "Sexual slavery and political corruption are leading to an AIDS catastrophe," The Nation, April 8, 1996, p.11- 20.
2. Jordan, Miriam. "India Enlists Barbers in the War on AIDS." The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, September 24, 1996, p.A14.