AIDS experts in India are targeting a new group in their campaign to raise HIV awareness - married women.
Surveys show that a majority of HIV-infected women did not report a history of multiple partners, intravenous drug use or blood transfusions, and appear to have been infected through sex with their infected husbands.
“We need to expand the focus to include married, monogamous women who may not perceive themselves to be at risk, but whose personal risk is inextricably linked to the behaviour of their husbands,” said Suniti Solomon, of the Y.R. Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education.
“As more and more women get infected, notions of risk group need to be redefined to more accurately assess potential for HIV infections.”
In India’s deeply conservative and male-run society, women have little say when it comes to condom use or other measures that can protect their health.
Solomon’s organisation recently reported that in a study of 3,357 women more than 85 percent of those who tested positive had a single sexual partner.
Experts say the Indian married woman’s understanding of the HIV risk she is facing, and even her awareness of HIV/AIDS, may be low since most programmes have targeted high-risk populations, such as sex workers and drug users.
“The housewife is under tremendous threat,” said Akhila Sivadas, executive director of Centre for Advocacy and Research.
Last Month, UNAIDS, the U.N.‘s AIDS prevention agency, said there were an estimated 5.7 million Indians living with the deadly virus at the end of 2005, more than in any other country and ahead of South Africa’s 5.5 million cases.
But the Indian authorities have dismissed the figure, saying the number of infections stood at an estimated 5.2 million.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD