The number of young women affected by HIV in India is twice that of young men, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said Hyderabad at Tuesday, adding that the "feminisation" of the disease was a very "disturbing fact".
Referring to a study by UNAIDS in 2006, Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, technical officer, sexual and reproductive health and HIV, WHO, said that nearly 39 percent of the people affected by HIV are women and that young women in the age group of 15-24 are twice as much affected than men. This was worrisome, she added.
"The increasing feminisation of HIV in India, among the younger lot, is not a good sign," Narasimhan said. Approximately 2.5 million people in India are affected by HIV. And though a lot has been talked about it, many experts feel that nothing concrete has been done in this context.
"There is far too much of dialogue, too much of lip service and tokenism. But when it comes to actually tackling the problem, especially when it concerns the youth, nothing much has been done," said Lester Coutinho of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, India.
Coutinho has conducted a programme aimed at spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS in the tribal areas of Bihar and Jharkhand for eight years. "What I realised is that if you want to have a youth programme, then let the youth handle everything with the vision that they will not be doing this forever. They simply pass on the responsibility to the next batch.
"In India, we often have adults conducting youth programmes. You can't have adults doing everything, they can lead. Young people understand the needs of their peers so they will understand the demands of how to address the issue," Coutinho pointed out.
According to Coutinho, two things need to be kept in mind while conducting awareness programmes amongst the youth. "First, the youth must be made to realise why they need the knowledge. Simply advocating the issue is not enough. Secondly, they need to challenge the adult-led world and be confident that they can lead the way," he said.
Purnima Mane, deputy executive director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the stigma attached to being HIV infected was the biggest challenge in tackling the disease. "And you can imagine when it is a woman being affected. The stigma is double," Mane said.
According to WHO statistics, 10.3 million young people, in the age group of 15-24, are affected by HIV across the world. "7,000 people are affected by HIV everyday. That is an alarming number. But the fact that not as many actually go on to become AIDS patients is a ray of hope," Mane told IANS.