New Delhi: A startling study indicates that almost 40 percent of India's truck drivers and their helpers are infected with AIDS virus and there is an urgent need to create awareness among this community to check the spread of the fatal disease.
India currently has over 5.1 million AIDS patients and truckers are possibly one of the largest groups carrying the disease.. There are over six million truckers crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country.
"The findings are certainly alarming. One in every three truckers visits commercial sex workers. The shocking part is that only 18 percent of them use condoms," said Alok Srivastava, the chief project manager for the study.
According to the survey, conducted by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), though many truckers have heard about HIV and AIDS, only two percent of them know the difference between the two.
The study collected data from hundreds of truck drivers ferrying on national highways linking Mumbai and New Delhi, New Delhi-Kolkata, Kolkata-Chennai and Chennai-Mumbai.
Among the truckers surveyed, 95 percent were in the age group of 18 to 45 years and 80 percent were married. Around 75 percent were in the profession for more than five years.
More than illiteracy, ignorance and being away from home for long stretches were the main reasons behind the spread of the disease among the truckers' community, Srivastava told IANS.
The survey revealed that at least a third of the truckers had never been contacted by government health workers or an NGO though AIDS awareness campaigns on television and radio have helped to spread knowledge.
"The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) must pay more attention towards this community," Srivastava said.
To bring about the desired behavioral change, the survey suggests there must be concerted efforts for one-to-one interaction between truckers on the one hand and private and public health workers on the other.
"Interpersonal communication is the most effective medium to convey any message. When a health worker interacts with a trucker, there is a greater possibility of realizing the importance of safe sex.
"Besides, they must be educated on the use of condoms. They should also be motivated to seek early and complete treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Communicating messages through peer educators comprising sex workers and fellow drivers needs to be taken up on a large scale," Srivastava said.
(Source - :IANS)