Changing social attitudes and behaviour has helped in the control of AIDS.
Organising to check AIDS
AIDS is a a disease that has no cure and this is forcing health workers to seek effective ways to prevent its spread. The experiences of the decade since the discovery of AIDS indicate strategies to change social attitudes and behaviour have limited the spread of the disease. Many grassroots and community-based groups in Asia and the Pacific are working towards this end.
NGO AIDS Cell (NAC) works to strengthen the role of NGOs, especially those in north India, in the prevention and control of AIDS. Started in September last year, NAC works with 16 NGOs, based mostly in UP, Rajasthan and Bihar. NAC coordinator Shankar Chowdhury says its thrust is to get NGOs to incorporate AIDS education in their programmes, because the war against the virus that causes it can be won only if the battle is taken straight to the community.
Multiple Action Research Group (MARG) was started without any funds and armed only with a sense of commitment to do something about the AIDS problem. Asha Ramesh and three of her friends got together and worked with prostitutes in the Capital's red light district. They modified an AIDS awareness package from Africa and used it as an educational tool. The quartet found the women to be responsive but they soon realised it would be necessary to target the customers of the prostitutes.
MARG began involving men in its campaign, including the panwallahs who often function as pimps. MARG began social marketing -- distributing free condoms to the panwallahs, who then sold them at a nominal rate of Rs 15 for 100.
In Malaysia, drug possession is a serious offence and it is only recently that the word condom was allowed in the public media. Nevertheless, the Pink Triangle, a voluntary group, has managed to publicise the dangers of AIDS/HIV. At present, 4,200 HIV-positive and 60 AIDS cases have been registered in the country. Yee Khim Chong, coordinator of the Pink Triangle, says the organisation provides free and confidential telephone counselling, blood testing and other support services.
A survey in Nepal's Nuwakot district proved to the Women's Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) that many village girls went to India to earn a living and invariably wound up in the flesh trade. WOREC decided to provide alternative income-generation training and AIDS education to a group of 32 girls. They were taught bamboo crafts and basic literacy.
Thailand conceded only in the last two or three years that AIDS/HIV exists in the country. Supecha Boughtip of the voluntary group Empower, says attitudes are beginning to change and people now realise AIDS can infect anyone -- and not just prostitutes.
Colin Ross of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia says 80 per cent of HIV-infected people in Australia are homosexuals and among aborigines, sexually transmitted diseases are a major problem. Many aborigines, he explained, resist government health services because they are mostly white-staffed and prefer to visit their own community health centres. One reason for Australia achieving some success in controlling AIDS is because of a strong political lobby and effective community mobilisation, Ross added.
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