Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan stirred a hornet’s nest in his visit to US when he spoke to “The New York Times” representative in New York yesterday, and called for less emphasis on condoms as the focus of AIDS prevention propaganda. The minister has called for abstinence and renewed focus on “Indian morals” in AIDS prevention publicity henceforth.
“The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. This sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you’re using a condom, it’s fine,” the minister told the American media. He is learned to have already given orders to the government body on AIDS prevention – National Aids Control Organization (NACO), to tone down the emphasis on condoms and focus on promoting the moral values of society which are “intrinsic to Indian society.”
NACO head VK Subburaj contradicts the minister’s views. “The minister thought that we were promoting illegal activities through condoms, For the vulnerable groups, we cannot tell them about morals, We tell them to be faithful,” he said. The ABC approach, of “Abstinence, Be faithful, and use a Condom” approach has been used for many years in India.
If we look at the figures of AIDS spread and reach in India, there are 2.1 million affected people in the country, making it the third most affected nation in the world after South Africa (6.1 million) and Nigeria (3.4 million). But looking at the population of the country, the numbers are far from alarming – just 0.3% of the total population. The disease so far has been mostly relegated to high risk groups – homosexuals and extra marital affairs indulging in unsafe sex.
But the “moral fabric” of India society is changing. According to a study, about 75% of youth between 18-24 age group are currently engaging in pre marital sex. This data tells us that sex before marriage and after marriage is becoming increasingly common in India. Under the scenario, use of condoms, which protects persons from several sexually transmitted diseases and reduces the need for pills by women which are still reported for causing several side effects including severely damaging menstrual cycles of women.
Anjali Gopalan of Naz Foundation which works with HIV patients, says “Just because condom is available, not everyone starts having sex. Either ways you need to promote condom use.” After all, condom use is associated with life style choices too in this nation of young people.
Instead of say, bringing in the Bhishma actor of Mahabharat serial and promote abstinence and sticking to marital sex only, as suggested by Dr. Harsh Vardhan, won’t it be better to leave the matter to the adults of the country? After playing a role in making India a polio free country, did Dr. Harsh Vardhan choose wrongly in shunning condoms?