and Aids - dodging the issue?
By Jonathan Beale BBC correspondent in Delhi
In one of Delhi's charity-run Aids care centres, 20
women and children suffer in secrecy and in silence.
(Photo of Aids victim Koushalya - infected by her husband
Most HIV victims in India are shunned by a society that would
ignore the virus. But India cannot afford to do that anymore.
Over four-and-a-half million people are now living with
(PhotoIrfarn Khan, the centre's co-ordinator, says it's about
his country confronted the stigma.)
"What we do here is, when the client is admitted, we try
and tell the
family also that it is as normal as any other infection and
we are dealing with it - the same things can be done back at
Dr Khan says. "That's where we are plugging the gap
information and trying to bring them back to their
Reluctance to speak
It is aid agencies, rather than the government, that are
The United Nations is warning that without a rapid stepping up
country's Aids-prevention programme, the epidemic could spread
tens of millions of Indians.
Doctors could face a huge increase in HIV patients in India
politicians who are supposed to be highlighting the problems
seem reluctant to promote sex education. And that is causing
frustration among Aids-awareness campaigners.
Campaigners are also coming under pressure from conservative
in India who see talk of condoms and safe sex as a western
to a mainly western problem - promiscuity.
'Learn some lessons'
But even married couples in India are not immune to the
Koushalya knew little about Aids until she was infected by her
husband. Doctor Irfarn Khan - HIV is 'as normal as any
infection'She says its time to get Aids out into the open, and
some lessons from South Africa.
"Nelson Mandela raised the profile of Aids in South
appearing at conferences and talking on the media about sex
education, awareness and condoms," Koushalya says.
"We in India have
got to do the same."
There is hope.
Five hundred politicians from all parties - from the prime
to regional representatives - are meeting in Delhi this
discuss a strategy to combat the virus.
Congress MP Oscar Fernandes knows the stakes are high.
"We have 10%
of the world's Aids affected people. Going by the percentage
not be a problem as of today but going by the population of 1
and the way it multiplies it may definitely be a major threat
health of the nation."
This weekend's conference is a significant step forward. But
count for little unless words are soon matched by deeds.