Mumbai (AsiaNews) "If we do not act today, we will be another South Africa," said yesterday India's Health Minister A. Ramaldoss on World AIDS Day.
As of October 2004, there were over 91,000 known and a 5.1 million estimated AIDS cases in the country. This makes India the second largest AIDS-afflicted nation in the world. And this already alarming figure could rise to 20 million by 2010.
Children are particularly affected by the HIV virus. Discrimination against them is widespread in schools. To counter the problem, the Government wants to bring in legislation to prevent educational institutions from denying HIV-AIDS children their right to an education.
In a conservative society like India, it is unusual to see prostitutes or gay rights activists take to the streets to raise awareness about this deadly disease, but many of them have attacked existing AIDS campaigns for focusing too much on sex workers and leaving out the fact that "men are the main carriers of the virus".
In fact, infections among married couples are on the rise. The Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal of Mumbai confirms that "the number of infected married couples is increasing every year because one spouse has become HIV-infected."
Pre-nuptial agreements now include a clause making marriages null and void should one of the would-be spouses be found to have a communicable disease like AIDS or leprosy.
Another proposal has been controversial. Not everyone wants to see ADIS awareness information included in the school curriculum. This is not the case of the Archdiocesan Board of Education in Mumbai which has already included AIDS awareness in its programmes. Among other things, a team of trained professionals, including Catholic doctors, impart information about AIDS to 9th and 10th grade students.
The virus has not spared India's military either. According to an internal Army report, there are more than 5,000 HIV-positive cases in the armed forces and on an average 50 more are testing positive each month. To cope with the problem, the army is making an educational movie to inform its rank and file.
Health authorities urge caution stressing the need for prevention and "voluntary testing".
Fortunately, the World Health Organisation has said that India has been able to deliver good, low-cost generic anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS patients, something that is not always happening elsewhere in the world.