Awareness of HIV/AIDS seems to be quite widespread in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, especially among women.
For they outnumbered men at the 760 Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) established by the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS), according to data released by it for the period between January and September this year.
About 2.65 lakh women turned up for the voluntary counselling and testing services as opposed to the 2.54 lakh men who opted for the important assessment. This is besides the over six lakh mothers who participated in the Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission Programme.
Over 14 lakh persons, including nearly 10 lakh women, have so far undergone counselling and testing. Of these, 27,679 persons have tested positive, representing a positivity rate of 1.93.
So far this year, the highest number of ICTC attendees is in the 30-39 age group, with an estimated 80, 632 women and 72,384 men reporting at the centres. In contrast, the 25-29 age group featured 67,104 women and 44,934 men and the 20-24 age group had 43,708 women and 30,712 men.
The high participation rates of women weave an interesting sub-plot to what has turned out to be a strikingly successful campaign that has seen falling prevalence rates (the latest being 0.375 per cent), resulting in Tamil Nadu being taken off the list of "high-prevalence" States.
The voluntary counselling and testing programme has of late seen a record increase in the proportions of people reporting at ICTCs. Between 2000 and 2005, the participation in the counselling-testing services steeped from 0.43 lakh to 7.1 lakh, while in 2006, the figure crossed the million mark.
The number of patients registering for anti-retroviral treatment has also gone up significantly in recent years: from the 5095 patients registered in 2005, the numbers rose to 15,683 in 2006. In 2007, the State had over 60,000 patients registered for the treatment across the 26 treatment centres, according to the data.
"The stage is, perhaps, ideally set for increasing the focus on evolving better social security mechanisms for affected women," said TANSACS project director Supriya Sahu. Women are essentially the focus groups of interventions both because HIV/AIDS officials feel that they are the most vulnerable to social security concerns and most likely to be saddled with the responsibility of family management and children's education.