HIV/AIDS…On the highway to infection

Since a long time now, I have been thinking about the transition our society has had in terms of its acceptance of diseases like HIV or AIDS. Are we really so intolerant to be unable to recognize or respect people with the disease and consider them a taboo. Its not surprising to read about people who are not diagnosed on time or who do not receive the right amount of care and treatment given their social UN acceptance. Various cultures and societies still consider the disease a “sin” to acquire. Even in today’ world of Iphone4 and gadgets, people with such diseases are looked down upon and secluded.

It’s an interesting a documentary that I recently saw on the Discovery channel that explains how truckers in India are highly prone to carrying the infection. Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, the largest truck stop in Asia, hundreds of hard-faced lorry drivers huddle together under coarse grey blankets, their silvery breath clear in the night air. On the surface it looks like another market area, yet there are few more visible signs of India’s economic growth than the hive of activity around this transport stop on the outskirts of the Indian capital, which each day houses up to 7,000 long-distance lorry drivers. [1]

With little to do while they rest for the night, it is common for the resting drivers to buy sex, sometimes several times a day, from local women and teenage girls, for as little as 30 rupees. Truck driver’s work long hours on the road and often spend several days in one place clearing customs or resolving mechanical problems.  Seeking entertainment, they turn to sex with women or girls in the prostitution or floating sex workers who are at high risk of being HIV/AID positive and transmitting HIV to the drivers.[2] As a result, the drivers have high rates of HIV. Their highly mobile lifestyle requires a lot of travel. In other stopover town locations they visit other sex workers thereby potentially transmitting the virus. In addition, many of the truck drivers are married who are likely to become infected with HIV and hence the chain further goes on.

Taking the case of truck drivers, they are mostly men who are illiterate and from very low income group of the nation. Given the nature of their jobs, it’s nearly impossible to teach or create awareness among them. But then also they are one of the largest carrier group of the disease not only within India but in whole of Southeast Asia. The government and health agencies ought to tackle the situation prudently. I suggest starting camps and education models on the most travelled highways and close to their “favourite” lay over stops. Also, the best long-term solution is to provide greater economic and educational opportunities so that fewer women enter the sex trade.

So, what is the way forward? I believe cultural and social taboos, education, status of women and awareness levels largely determine attitudes towards a person living with HIV/AIDS. Its imperative to teach this generation how AIDS is a disease not to be looked down upon or ostracized, rather its a global threat that we all need to tackle with education and awareness. A strong support from international health committees and a strong determination to create consciousness about the disease, its economic burden and preventability can be the safest bet to combat it.

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