Most legislators in India, the country with the most AIDS infections in the world, remain ignorant about the disease, with many believing it can be spread by sharing food, toilets and offices, an official said on Thursday.
The lack of AIDS awareness was revealed in a survey of 250 legislators that was released to Parliament Wednesday, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported in a story confirmed by Manmohan Sharma, who heads the parliamentary committee that wrote the report.
According to the poll, 64 per cent of Indian legislators believe sharing clothes can transmit HIV, the virus that can lead to full-blown AIDS, 56 per cent think that sharing food and utensils spreads the virus, 40 per cent said that contact with a co-worker spreads it, and 22.8 per cent believe that using the same toilet as an infected person can pass the virus to others, the paper reported.
Of perhaps even greater concern is the apparent ignorance among legislators about how to best prevent the spread of AIDS.
According to the Hindustan Times, some 25 per cent of those questioned did not know that sex with multiple partners increases the risk of contracting AIDS, and the same number were unaware that using a condom prevents transmission.
Some 46 per cent did not know that an infected mother can pass the disease on to her fetus, and 51 per cent were ignorant that a person can get the AIDS virus from blood transfusions, the newspaper reported, citing the study, which was not immediately available.
No margin of error was given, but the report’s sample represents nearly a third of the 787 legislators in the lower and upper houses of parliament.
UNAIDS said in May that India’s 5.7 million infections meant the country has the highest number of people in the world living with HIV. But due to its large population – the country is home to more than a billion people – India’s prevalence rate remains less than 1 per cent.
The report comes soon after India said it would earmark $200 million US for the financial year 2006-2007 for its AIDS prevention program.
The plan aims to accelerate a campaign to promote safe sex, popularise the use of condoms, remove the stigma surrounding the disease, expanding the network of treatment facilities and get more people on anti-retroviral drugs.
After receiving the report, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it contained “very interesting and provocative material on the perceptions and approach of our elected representatives on a vital area of national policy,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Other legislators called for more discussion of the issue in parliament.
On the bright side, the survey found that all those questioned had heard of AIDS, usually from the media.