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Muslim housewives in AIDS crossfires

A visit to AIDS OPD at Cama Hospital, Mumbai, turns out to be an eye opener. 60 women in varying stages of expectancy had come to hear professor of obstetrics Dr Deepti Dongaokar who handles the most vulnerable section of Mumbai's HIV populace - pregnant positive women.

Dr Deepti counsels her patients on issues ranging from healthcare to food intake to protecting themselves from HIV. "India is headed to be the next Africa," she cautions in between dealing with her patients. "Even from my limited exposure, I can tell this is an earthquake waiting to happen." Most of the women at Dongaokar's clinic picked up HIV from the most unexpected of sources: their own husbands.

A random survey of the HIV Positive patients at the Cama Hospital revealed that a sizeble percentage are Muslim house wives. Abida ,18, was one of the HIV positive cases." At sixteen, my head was full of romantic notions. My parents were strict and orthodox. But I did not care for an arranged marriage. So, when Salman my neighbour who worked in Mumbai sidled and leered at me, instead of repulsing him, I was drawn to him. I married him against the wishes of my parents" said Adida.

Her first pregnancy last year turned out to be very complicated as she tested HIV positive." Doctor advised HIV test of my husband and he was positive. Doctors said that I acquired the infection from my husband and my son Abid from me", she revealed. Salman died three months ago.

On another bed, Farida lay exhausted and drained out on the hospital bed. The loud wailing of her new born, named Shahid, could be heard. She was married last year to her distant relative Salim who worked in Mumbai as cook in a hotel. Within five months Salim died due to Tuberculosis which had irreversibly damaged his lungs." The doctors later confirmed that Tuberculosis was the secondary infection as he was HIV positive. Drugs failed to respond as he was imuno compromised patient", said Farida.

A few miles away from Dongaokar's clinic is the AIDS Research and Control Center (ARCON), a collaborative effort between the University of Texas and state agencies. New research suggests that one of every four new HIV infections in India will beset women. And as is in Thailand, not prostitutes but housewives will be the most vulnerable. Hira, who has lived and studied AIDS in Africa as well, warns: "The high risk group for all potential HIV infections in India are housewives! Most of whom are infected by their husbands."

Also Aids is leaving a generation of orphans. Young Shahid and Abid, both infected at birth, are just two of the some 160,000 children the United Nations estimates to be infected with HIV in India. The total HIV-infected Indian population is estimated at just under 4 million. Although infection rates in India are a fraction of those in Africa, health officials worry that the disease can still have a grave effect on the nation's future. 

Doctors say mother-to-child transmissions are increasing as infection rates rise among Indian women. 

MILLI GAZETTE conducted a random survey, which included Three AIDS clinic, twenty general practitioners (GP's) and two public hospitals. The survey revealed that though the transmission of HIV from Muslim husband to wife and children has not reached alarming proportions but it cannot be taken lightly or neglected.

Out of twenty GP's, eight revealed that they get at least one case in a month of Muslim female infested with HIV, which she acquired from her husband. In most of the cases husband was working in Mumbai and brought the wife after she complained of continuous fever. 

According to the health experts one of the solutions to avoid such tragedy is to make compulsory for AIDS-free certificate for marriage. The National AIDS Policy, which was recently cleared by the Union Cabinet, provides for this. At the time of marriage negotiations, either party can legitimately ask for an AIDS-free certificate from the other. To quote the policy, details of which have been released now, "In case of marriage, if one of the partners insists on a test to check the HIV status of the other partner, such tests should be carried out by the contracting party to the satisfaction of the person concerned''. 

Andhra Pradesh has gone further.. The legislation proposed by state Health Minister K Siva Prasad Rao, making the AIDS test mandatory for all persons of marriageable age, is a revolutionary initiative in a nation where the threat of the AIDS epidemic has been swept under the carpet. The lack of a central authority for AIDS prevention is acutely felt.

Needless to say the issue needs to be tackled before it becomes unmanageable. The future of the future generation is at stake here.

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