After years of providing treatment, care and support for HIV/AIDS among high risk groups like truckers, commercial sex workers, injectable drug users and transgenders, the government is suddenly faced with a new challenge — the increasing incidence of HIV among youth, possibly due to unsafe casual sex. Concerned by the trend, the Tamil Nadu State Aids Control Society (TNSACS) is organising a youth carnival to create awareness and promote safe sex.
The state has been boasting about a decline of infection in the population, but those working in the HIV/AIDS sector fear that there is an increase in the incidence of the disease. A recent analysis undertaken by TNSACS has shown that the profiles of the newly infected people were not from the high risk groups. “Instead they were housewives, single working people and students. We also did a study on usage of condoms among youth. That’s when we found that many have occasional unprotected intercourse with multiple partners,” said Dr. S.Thennarasu, the regional coordinator.
Other senior officals in TNSAC confirmed the trend. “The infection rate is high only within the age-group of 15-29 years. Today, casual sex has a fair amount of social acceptance. Mobility amidst both sexes is on the rise,” the official added.
Others working in the sector agree. “There is a clear decline in the HIV prevalence rates among sex workers and truckers. In a small study we found that casual sex among working professionals particularly those in garment industry and the BPO sector was high.” said Dr R Lakshmibai, the project director of TAI.
As per data furnished by the TNSAC, the prevalence of HIV among commercial sex workers had decreased from 8.8% in 2003 to 3.6% in 2007. Consequently, even prevalence of other Sexually Transmitted Diseases(STD) had decreased from 16.8% in 2000 to 8% in 2007. However, the state registered a total of 28,000 cases in 2008-09 and 30,000 new cases in 2009-10.
“There were only basic awareness programs conducted for the general population. Otherwise, we focused only on target groups. It’s probably time to change that,” said an official. TNSACS, in association with APAC and TAI will organise a youth carnival in August that will attempt to sensitise them to the dangers of unsafe sex with strangers. “Intercourses with multiple partners is always risky,” explained Dr Bimal Charles, project director of Aids Prevention and Control Project (APAC). “And the youth are always prone to experimentation. If they are not aware of safety, it increases the risk.”
The Carnival will attempt to create awareness through mediums the youth relate to, like video and short film competitions on the issue, workshops, jingles and jazzy numbers. “Already, the few interactions that we had with the youth helped us realise that they were hungry for information on this topic.”