More Effort Needed To Address HIV/AIDS-Related Stigma in India, Advocates Say
Some advocates in India are calling for increased efforts to end the social stigma and ostracism experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, LiveMint.com reports. Kapil Kaul, country head for the not-for-profit organization HelpAge India, said that the virus is continually linked with high-risk groups that do not have social standing in the country, adding that people "need to create sympathy and understanding" for those groups to end discrimination. He added that the country's "present approach is devoid of strategy," and that India needs a "huge campaign which must penetrate social norms" and "must have a five to 10 year perspective with definite milestones." Nirupama Rao, state youth coordinator for the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society, said stigma can decrease as knowledge about the virus increases, adding the "more you talk about it, the more stigma will come down." Rao also said that creating supportive communities for people living with HIV/AIDS and having visible testing centers would help reduce stigma in India.
According to Avnish Jolly -- an HIV/AIDS advocate and member of the country research team at the United Nation's India office -- it will take decades to reduce the stigma that is "attached to what is largely considered a sexually transmitted disease." He said that despite "centuries of reform and development," traditional Indian concepts like the caste system and untouchables "haven't vanished from our villages." Padmavati, a Chennai-based consultant at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, said that attitudes toward a person living with HIV/AIDS largely are determined by cultural and social taboos -- such as education and the status of women -- and that reactions toward people living with the virus vary throughout India. She said that stigma is greater in places like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan "where women do not have a voice in the family" and that "progressive states," such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, "report fewer cases of stigma" despite having high HIV prevalence (Bahl, LiveMint.com, 1/6).