Watch out for HIV, Bengal cautions puja revellersOctober 4th, 2008 - 11:37 am ICT by IANS
Kolkata, Oct 4 (IANS) As West Bengal gears up to celebrate the mega festival of Durga Puja, health authorities and some NGOs are cautioning youth about the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS during the five nights and days of revelry.Owing to the trend of high alcohol consumption and a carefree lifestyle during the puja days beginning Oct 5, sexually transmitted health disorders among youngsters could go up, they say.
“It’s true, the young population is more susceptible to HIV/AIDS on festivals. Youngsters often tend to lead a reckless life because of the sudden change in their daily routine and the leniency shown by their parents on such occasions,” D.N. Goswami, West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSAPCS) programme officer, told IANS.
“Generally, on festive days young members are given some amount of freedom by their families. They don’t have to follow family restrictions and they can spend the nights with their friends outside.
“They often drink to celebrate. Excessive drinking develops into a tendency to visit red light areas which makes them more vulnerable to STD,” Goswami said.
There are about 12 red light pockets in the city in addition to the large concentration of sex workers in Sonagachi.
The total number of registered AIDS cases in West Bengal stood at 3,888 till March 2007, while India has 2.5 million HIV/AIDS cases.
Tarit Chakraborty, president of the Bengal Network of Positive People (BNP+), an NGO working with the HIV/AIDS cases, said: “We’ve observed that susceptibility among the young generation increases because of brothel visits and unsafe sex. Most of them, especially in an inebriated state, are not very careful about using condoms.”
BNP+, with more than 4,500 members across the state, is dealing with thousands of cases of STD infections in West Bengal since 2001.
“We’ve also seen many people who stay in other states - like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh - come to West Bengal during the pujas. They are also very potent carriers of HIV and facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted infections,” said Chakraborty, who is also the regional coordinator of Indian Network of Positive People.
“Drug abuse also increases during this time,” he added.
According to the 2001 Census, people aged 15-24 years constituted 18.28 percent of West Bengal’s 80 million-plus population.
West Bengal health director Sanchita Bakshi told IANS: “In the festive season, of course, there is a serious risk factor of getting infected by sexually transmitted diseases.
“There’s no study available with the government about the HIV prevalence rate in the particular season. But the government and a number of NGOs are working in tandem to disseminate awareness during the coming puja festival by launching extensive campaigns in all major pandals,” she said.
Chakraborty said: “We are also trying to carry out a state-wide campaign against HIV infection. We’ve formed a music band and a drama team with our own members - all of them positive cases. We conduct stage shows to make people aware about this ailment.
“Our performances are based on true stories and we try to draw a picture of the physical and mental suffering one faces after getting infected,” he added.
The first case of HIV infection in West Bengal was detected in 1986. In the last few years, HIV has spread to the general population and is no longer restricted to the most at-risk groups.
A study by the National Behavioural Surveillance Survey (NBSS) in 2001 revealed that 66.40 percent of female and 78.10 percent of the male respondents of the state’s urban areas had knowledge about the sexual route of HIV transmission.
But in the rural areas, the corresponding figures were much lower at 32.30 percent for females and 56.60 percent for males.
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