Unsafe sex and transfusion of HIV-infected blood could push Madhya Pradesh from a low-AIDS prevalence state to moderate category, fear health experts.
The number of AIDS-affected people in the state, according to latest figures, has risen from one in 1988 to 1,933 till October 2006.
While 53 percent of the cases have their genesis in unprotected sex, 23 percent were caused by transfusion of infected blood giving rise to fears of the state moving towards moderate category.
While states having less than one percent population inflicted with HIV/AIDS are said to be 'low prevalence', the moderate category is pegged at 23 percent.
The rise in the number of AIDS patients in the state is attributed to low awareness and an acute lack of infrastructure to tackle the disease and cash crunch, which have become the bane of the anti-AIDs drive in the state. Even the rural areas are not spared, studies say.
"While urbanisation, rapid industrialisation and changing mode of lifestyle were factors contributing to high prevalence in urban areas, traditional practice of selling sex by communities like Bedia, Banchhda and Sansi have added to the woes in rural areas," a survey says. "They have little or no knowledge of AIDS or its prevention. They don't even know what venereal diseases are."
"Since 'tradition' in these communities demands that the eldest daughter of the family has to go in for prostitution to look after the family until her marriage, they surrender themselves for as little as Rs.50 to Rs.100 without any demands for safe sex," says Rajiv Lochan, head of Shuruat, a voluntary organisation which toured the state to spread AIDS awareness.
These communities spread over 24 districts of the state - including Ratlam, Mandsaur, Neemuch, Morena, Shivpuri, Guna, Ujjain, Datia, Panna and Satna - operate in semi-urban areas which are mostly close to highways.
"Almost all the regions of the state have been affected by HIV and now the dreaded disease has started gripping the rural areas," says a health department survey.
"More disturbing is that HIV/AIDS is now engulfing the 'productive population' in the age group of 20-40 years. With the exposure teens and youth are getting through television, they have started experiencing sex at an early age, further aggravating the problem," say a Madhya Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (MPSACS) official.
Western Madhya Pradesh, specially 14 districts of the Malwa and the Nimar regions touching commercial areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat, are in fact highly susceptible to AIDS. Of the 1,933 known cases of AIDS in the state, about 70 percent (1,380) have been reported from these districts.
"The findings also suggest a rise in AIDS/HIV among marketing and sales people and those indulging in casual sex and extramarital affairs," says Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (MPVHA) executive director Mukesh Kumar Sinha. "We have to change the guidelines given by NACO that lay emphasis on high risk groups like commercial sex workers, drug addicts, street children, truck drivers and transporters."
Not many have knowledge about the disease that they still equate with leprosy or the "curse of Kamdev" (God of love).