Dr. Harsh Vardhan who took office May 26 said that he would like to see a change in the way the government promotes awareness of HIV/AIDS with more emphasis on “promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife,” which he said was “part of our culture.”
“The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms,” he told india.blogs.nytimes.com. “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.”
Over the years, the government’s National AIDS Control Organization has emphasized the use of condoms and clean needles for high-risk groups — including sex workers, drug users and gay men.
In India, more than 85 percent of the cases are a result of unprotected sex, according to the organization.
Sex work is illegal in India, and the Supreme Court last December recriminalized same-sex relations, even if consensual, by reintroducing the draconian British colonial-era “Section 377” law that describes same-sex relations as “unnatural” for which the punishment can be up to life imprisonment.
“The reality is that people do step out of marriage, and therefore you have to deal with it, and ensure that they do not bring back infection,” said Anjali Gopalan who runs Naz Foundation that helps people living with HIV/AIDS and spreads awareness of the disease among the LGBT community.
Naz Foundation has been in the forefront lobbying against the reinstatement the law criminalizing same-sex relations.
“This whole debate about what is moral in our culture, I think we really need to look at it,” Gopalan said. “What culture are we talking about?”
V.K. Subburaj, head of the National AIDS Control Organization, said that condom promotion was directed at high-risk groups and not the general population.
Although the minister’s comments about the “moral fabric” in the country was “becoming very thin,” his agency would make changes to the information, education and communication strategy for the general population. “We will tell them, ‘Be faithful,’ ” he said.
India reported its first case of AIDS in 1986, and for some years, there were fears that it would become a crisis on the scale seen in Africa. Nonetheless, the country today has the third-largest population of HIV-infected people of 2.1 million, after South Africa and Nigeria.