India May Follow Africa Into
AIDS Oblivion - 20 Million
Dying Now
By Jim McDermott

Many researchers believe that India has become home to the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world. As many as 20 million people may be living with HIV in the subcontinent.
India stands at the same crossroads as Africa a decade ago with respect to this epidemic. Confronting HIV/AIDS requires implementation of the proper interventions to steer India in the direction of recovery.
If these "best practices" are not taken, the country and its inhabitants will become victims of one of the most frightening diseases of modern times. There would be nothing more tragic than seeing a country as rich in culture and history, and with as much potential as India, being destroyed by an epidemic that could be avoided with relatively easy and inexpensive interventions.
One of the keys to successfully combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the creation of an infrastructure that concurrently develops healthcare networks, education programmes, and community participation. A vast majority of the infected population currently lives in high-risk groups, such as prostitutes, in major cities like Mumbai, the epicentres of the AIDS epidemic in India.
However, the disease is now creeping into the lives of ordinary middle-class men and women, exactly as it did in sub-Saharan Africa. One major goal of any prevention programme must take into account the need to halt the spread of this disease from urban, high-risk groups into rural areas, and the public in general.
Preventing this trend involves educating people in smaller cities and villages of the danger of AIDS. This should be done through the existing education systems in India. Girls, especially, need to be given continued education until at least sixth grade. Many young girls drop out of school and are married off with little knowledge of the world around them.
Studies have proven that girls with higher education levels are more likely to make responsible social decisions. Although many factors contribute to this correlation, education basically gives young women the assurance and ability to make their own choices. Confidence is essential when confronting an issue as intimate and deadly as AIDS.
In comparison to Africa, India has a great advantage because of its structured education system. However, imparting both the necessary social and academic education involves solidifying the current system and focusing on motivating young girls to stay in school.
Another issue that must be addressed through education is the stigma of being tested for HIV/AIDS. Many people in India believe that if someone is tested then they must be carrying HIV, otherwise they would not need to be tested.
Furthermore, if they are tested positive, this prejudice prevents them from being able to afford medical help and being accepted as productive members of society. Although the Indian government has initiated awareness programmes, AIDS remains widely misunderstood due to strong cultural taboos and the lack of education.
Confronting this disease is a difficult task. However, we must start somewhere, and we must start now. In this sense, Indian Americans can play a key role in combating the AIDS epidemic. First, by providing the financial support to galvanize and leverage funding of the needed programmes.
The Indian government has had very limited success in its few interventions due to the severe strain on its resources because of the numerous other problems it must confront. It is up to the community concerned to take the leadership and some of the financial responsibility for the programmes that need to be implemented.
Money is not the only necessary resource. It is imperative that Indian Americans also provide moral support, the motivation, and pressure to create the HIV/AIDS programmes needed.
The programmes that are implemented need to be created by local organizations, which are known and respected by the community. A remarkable example of this is the charity of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI).
AAPI has donated thousands of dollars to develop medical clinics and facilities throughout India. Their clinics have been formed using local doctors and local practices.
These clinics not only provide basic healthcare needs, but also create local leadership that otherwise might not exist.
If the AIDS epidemic continues to grow as it has, India's future is limited and jeopardized. Education is the key to preventing this disease from expanding to all sections of the population. Although it has already started, there is still time to contain the epidemic.
The misery or prosperity of India's future lies in all of our hands. Education is the path to a successful future. By educating the children, cultural prejudices will be diminished and the children will be better prepared to make the proper decisions for their futures. Through the collective efforts of all of us, there is hope for this future.
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