New HIV/AIDS Threat in India Found Among Youth Working at Call Centers, Researcher Says
Unprotected sex with multiple partners among young staff in India's call centers has emerged as a new HIV/AIDS threat in the country, Suniti Solomon, the researcher who detected the first HIV case in India in 1986, told the International Congress on Infectious Diseases on Saturday, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports.
According to Solomon, such risky behavior among "call center Romeos," who typically work at night to correspond with the daytime working hours of their U.S. and European clients, has become a great concern. Solomon said, "They have all the money. They huddle together in the night. They are young, they are sexually active, so naturally they start."
Solomon, who runs an HIV/AIDS center in the city of Chennai, said at least three or four call center workers visit her clinic weekly to undergo HIV testing because of concerns after engaging in unprotected sex. Solomon said that her patients have told her that groups of young men and women rent apartments along the beach during weekends and have multiple-partner sex. "If they are having sex just among themselves and all are non-infected, it is fine," Solomon said, adding, "But if there is one person who has gone out of this group and brought in the virus, it will spread to everyone." The AP/Herald Tribune reports that there are no figures on how many call center workers are HIV-positive.
According to the AP/Herald Tribune, India's call centers employ about 1.3 million people, mostly youth who have just graduated from schools and colleges. The starting monthly salary for call center workers is 25,000 rupees, or $600, which is more than a government physician's paycheck.
Solomon said that although the call center situation is a reflection of recent liberal values, India's fight against HIV/AIDS has been hampered by co-existing conservatism, including opposition to male circumcision. A recent government study to gauge the acceptance of circumcision generated a backlash by some traditional Hindus, who called the procedure "obnoxious" and "a conspiracy," the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Solomon said, "If you go out into the streets and say, 'I will do this (circumcision) to reduce HIV,' there will be a chaos. Vaccines have failed. Microbicides have failed. This is one tool we have in hand, but we can't use it" (Joshi, AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/22).