Mass medical campaign to minimise HIV spread

CHENNAI SEPT. 6. The Population Services India (PSI) today launched a campaign, which attempts to bring about a change in sexual behaviour and minimise the spread of HIV/AIDS in Tamil Nadu.

``There is only a four-year window of opportunity before AIDS becomes a generalised epidemic in India,'' said Sanjay R. Chaganti, programme director, HIV/AIDS prevention, PSI. More worrying was that HIV prevalence among antenatal women was higher than the national average of 1 per cent.

The PSI, through mass medical camping, seeks to reach vulnerable and high-risk groups. It is targeted at men between 18 and 40 years from lower socio-economic groups. With a set of communication activities, the PSI hopes to raise their personal risk perception and change social norms to encourage safer sex.

The advertising campaign has two components. One part centres round the theme `Be Faithful'. This focusses on communicating to men the danger they put their wives and children in when they have sexual relationships outside of marriage. The second campaign, based on a fictitious character `Pulli Raja', attempts to communicate with the target group in a friendly manner, according to Mr. Chaganti.

The mass medical campaign, supported by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society, is also being simultaneously launched in Tuticorin, Madurai, Coimbatore, Salem, Namakkal, Tiruchi and Tirunelveli. It will continue till the first week of November.

K. Deenabandu, project director, TNACS, said: ``The campaign will help in removing several myths about HIV/AIDS among the public.''

A need for an aggressive awareness campaign targeted at men arose from monitoring of client profiles at the PSI's voluntary counselling and testing centre — `Saadhan' on Linghi Chetti Street here, says Mr. Chaganti.

The clinic, part of Operation Lighthouse project implemented across 12 port towns, was set up as a voluntary testing and counselling clinic. Since its inauguration in November 2002, the clinic has been attracting several locals.

According to the PSI, the client profile in the clinic is exclusively male, between the ages 21 and 30. Clients are monitored closely, in addition to the testing. Depending on their needs, `positive persons' are referred to other service providers: non-governmental organisations, legal aid centres and medicare centres.

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