Puritanism will not cure AIDS

Union health minister Sushma Swaraj is brandishing a new poultice to wrap around the AIDS menace. It is a purifying prescription called 'abstinence'. Don't have sex, you won't have AIDS. The health minister doesn't like the way AIDS prevention programmes focus on condoms

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- union health minister Sushma Swaraj is brandishing a new poultice to wrap around the aids menace. It is a purifying prescription called 'abstinence'. Don't have sex, you won't have aids. The health minister doesn't like the way aids prevention programmes focus on condoms. The focus makes her frown; not long ago she pronounced condom advertisements in television to be 'obscene', making her sound more like a 'moral police inspector' than the health minister of a country with close to four million hiv positive cases.

This means she's hell-bent on a major change in India's anti- aids strategy. Till now, safe sex methods were the core of this strategy. Worryingly, this also means: a) India still wants to approach the problem in a hush-hush way; and b) India is shying away from the challenge of stopping the spread of the disease.

Swaraj's new-found morality (or is it old-world Puritanism?) will not cure the disease. Besides the usual modes of hiv transmission, evidence shows it can spread in many other ways. Last month, India confirmed its first hiv case from artificial insemination. Recently an eight-month-old baby got it from blood transfusion, which was certified safe. These incidents complicate the approach to the disease, and its spread; the problem now requires to be tackled along a number of fronts. That the government had no answer to these incidents shows how sick the infrastructure is in merely comprehending the disease. Indeed, such incidents throw a different light on Swaraj's upright posturing: is morality a mask for incompetence? Worse, escapism?

India has to confront the reality of aids. Accept the disease exists, then fight it out. Social patterns of behaviour and interaction in India are such that they ensure hiv infection, or aids, remains a secret a family hugs to itself, even at the risk of spreading it to others. And while Swaraj must actively combat this mentality, and has the mandate to do so, she is only intent upon reproducing its inherent conservatism. Moreover, her 'abstinence' talk pushes the safe sex aspect of the anti- aids campaign into the shade. The campaign's gains stand to get nullified. How healthy would this be, especially since it is the doing of none other than the country's health minister?

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