No sex please, we're Indians

Published: Sunday 31 August 2008

Bold Thailand checks the spread of HIV while India still shies from acknowledging the problem

among the many differences between Thailand and India, is the way that the two countries tackle hiv/aids. Indians created a ruckus when actor Richard Gere kissed actress Shilpa Shetty during an hiv/aids awareness meeting in 2007. The meeting only advocated safe sex. The kiss, a symbol of sexuality, was considered taboo for Indians. Even at an awareness meeting, we were not willing to accept the reality.

On the other hand, Thailand puts the problem upfront. The non-governmental organisation, Population And Community Development Association (pda) took the problem by the horns. They came up with innovative ways of talking about the problem, blew up condoms, devised games and used the community to create awareness. The result is clear for all to see. While Thailand has managed to reverse the advance of the disease, thousands of Indians remain at risk due to ignorance.

Upfront, both countries talk about awareness as the way out but India is still shying away from going the whole way. The Gere-Shetty episode is not alone. In 2003, a similar noise was created when a series of advertisements on tv suggested that teenagers were sexually active. One of the ads showed the local paanwala selling condoms. Significantly in Thailand, these were the people used to spread awareness about preventive measures. The country's aids programme was inclusive and involved the business sector, the religious sector and the educational sector.

pda points out another solution to the problem. They hit upon the crux of the matter - it was not the disease that was killing people but the lack of money. It is lack of money that stops people from buying the medicines and even food. Income generation was the area where they decided to intervene. (See - Grassroots - Positive partnership). The contrast is just too visible in India, where finding and revealing the hiv positive status means anything from losing your job to being stigmatised. It is this which stops people from acknowledging the problem and why people refuse to go to the voluntary testing centres. There isn't a single government programme that provides livelihood to the affected people. pda used all avenues of employment and it worked.

Poverty alleviation does not stop with people affected by hiv/aids.

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