Indian women bear brunt of AIDS epidemic
NEW DELHI: Nearly half of people living with HIV/AIDS in India are women, and the number is expected to rise further, health experts said on Monday, because of trafficking of women across South Asia for prostitution.
India had an estimated 5.134 million people infected with the HIV virus in 2004, roughly the same as South Africa which has the world’s highest number of people with the virus.
Of these, 49 percent were found to be women and young girls, NS Dharamshaktu, additional project director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), told an AIDS conference. Earlier estimates put the figure at 40 percent.
Trafficking of women from India’s impoverished neighbours, Bangladesh and Nepal, was fuelling the spread of the disease, experts said.
Dharamshaktu said thousands of people, especially women and children, were fleeing the conflict in Nepal between government forces and Maoist guerrillas trying to topple the monarchy. Many of these women ended up in the brothels of India.
“Nepal has a security problem and the fallout is on India,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference. “Unless we close the trafficking tap at the source ... more and more women will be trafficked.”
NACO estimates there are more than 200,000 Nepali women – mostly under 18 years of age – working in brothels in big Indian cities such as Bombay, New Delhi and Calcutta.
India’s huge 180-million mobile population – including millions of migrant workers –makes tackling the HIV epidemic more challenging. Experts said women in rural areas were being infected by their husbands who visit sex workers in cities.
“How can a woman in a rural area demand her husband use a condom?” Denis Broun, the India coordinator for UNAIDS, said. “Women in rural areas who are illiterate and have dropped out of school are most vulnerable to the epidemic.” reuters