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Prostitutes, AIDS in India’s Poor Muslim Districts

By Raisa Ladji
Freelance Writer- Mumbai
india_aids_map2-12-2010
HIV infection rates have fallen globally from 3.1 million in 1999 to 2.6 million in 2009, a drop of about 20%
HIV Prevalence Map of India

India currently stands third in terms of countries with the highest number of HIV infections. As many as 2.5 million people are infected with HIV in the country, according to Reuters (March 2010) with 85.6% through sexual transmission alone.

Mumbai, the capital of the state of Maharashtra and financial capital of the country, has an approximate prevalence of 18% among female prostitutes, one of the highest in the state.

In Mumbai, which is the home to thousands of prostitutes, it has become indispensable to work towards improving the conditions of the community and to increase awareness and education within them.

Red light districts located in Mumbai happen to be based in predominantly Muslim areas with extremely poor hygiene and low levels of literacy. Over the years, this has become the most conducive environment for the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), especially HIV/AIDS.

Kamathipura, Asia’s largest red light district, is situated in the heart of an area dominated by Muslims. The government has been working on spreading awareness amongst prostitutes and their visitors; from distributing free condoms, educating the prostitutes about safe sex and preventive measures to conducting street plays and seminars. Various measures have been taken to curb the spread within these districts but the demons of illiteracy and social pressure have become the major reasons contributing to the spread of the disease.

Economic Victims

India_AIDS_workshop2-12-2010
(Image Credit: Benettontalk.com)

Although statistics of the infection in the Muslim community remain unknown, the very fact that red light areas like Kamathipura and Falkland Road are centrally Muslim-dominated does have its reasons.

These localities have existed ever since the British colonial era. They constitute of nondescript motels and garages, narrow, dingy lanes with extremely small, dilapidated houses that are big enough to just accommodate a bed, and poor sanitary conditions. Most prostitutes in the small restaurants and workshops are children below 15 years of age who work to support their large families even at the risk of contracting the disease.

Another reason contributing to the spread of the disease is stigma. For the Muslim dominated areas it is taboo to discuss HIV/AIDS openly along with topics of condoms use and sex education, all of which have been attributed to being anti-Islam despite the fact that the disease is an existing threat.

Besides the disease being prevalent among prostitutes, the rapid spread of the disease has also been observed among 24% of injecting drug users in the state. Most of these users are again predominantly ones falling below the poverty line while having access to low quality drugs, and they generally indulge in injecting in groups using a single syringe. There have been various campaigns launched by NGOs and government bodies to rehabilitate these drug users, dissuade them to use drugs, or at least avoid sharing syringes.

Another area of concern is the parent-to-child transmission of the disease. Approximately 5% of infections in India are due to parent-child transmission. The situation still seems slightly under control due to the extensive drives initiated by various organizations and antenatal clinics educating and spreading awareness to prevent the infections to children.

This has been a result of the setting up and availability of ART (anti-retro viral) therapy centers across the country

A United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) survey confirmed that the number of HIV infection cases have dropped worldwide. HIV infection rates have fallen globally from 3.1 million in 1999 to 2.6 million in 2009, a drop of about 20%. Consequently, the number of AIDS related deaths has also dropped by nearly the same rate.

For India, the silver lining on the HIV cloud is the fact that, currently, India, in sync with the world records, has recorded a low prevalence of HIV (about 0.34%.) The number of HIV infected cases in Mumbai have also considerably reduced. This has been a result of the setting up and availability of ART (anti-retro viral) therapy centers across the country and the wide-spread activities and movements, all encouraged by the government, to educate high risk groups against the HIV demon.
India currently stands third in terms of countries with the highest number of HIV infections. As many as 2.5 million people are infected with HIV in the country, according to Reuters (March 2010) with 85.6% through sexual transmission alone.
References

"AIDS&HIV News". (November 23, 2010).

"UNICEF, India".

International HIV & AIDS Charity. "Overview of HIV & AIDS in India".

Daily News Analysis. "Mumbai records fall in HIV cases". (November 29, 2010).

Related Links:
India's HIV Cases May be 2 Mln Fewer Than Thought
Sri Lanka: Happily Immune From AIDS?
The CHES Story: Rescuing Children With AIDS
Less Stigma for HIV Patients in Pakistan
HIV Rates on the Rise in Iran

Raisa Ladji is a freelance Digital Marketing Consultant based in Mumbai. Her passions include Technology Consulting and writing. She is a Software Engineer with .stints at Accenture in Mumbai, and Yell group, Houston

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