Aware of HIV but few in rural areas go for tests

Pune, February 10: Even though India is among the nations having the highest number of AIDS cases in the world, very few women in its rural backyard go for an Elisa test during pregnancy to detect the deadly HIV virus. In fact, very few women are even aware of the existence of voluntary counselling and testing facilities, despite a Government policy to expand ante-natal HIV screening and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV virus.

From Indian Express.

Approximately 60 per cent of the country’s HIV cases occur in rural areas, and married women of childbearing age are considered a highly vulnerable population, who generally acquire the virus primarily through their husbands’ pre- and extramarital sexual behaviour.

According to a study conducted jointly by Institute of Health Management, Pachod, Maharashtra and John Hopkins School of Medicine, USA, awareness among rural women about HIV testing centres is extremely low.

The study was conducted among 60,000 individuals in Aurangabad district where at least one per cent of pregnant women have tested HIV positive in ante-natal clinic sentinnel surveillance sites. The nearest Government-sanctioned Voluntary Counselling Test Centre is located 50 kilometres away at the district hospital. Conducted between January and March 2006, around 400 pregnant women were questioned regarding HIV awareness, risk and history of antenatal HIV testing.

While 87 per cent had heard of HIV virus, 84 per cent were aware of condoms while 72 per cent knew that consistent condom use is an effective way of preventing AIDS. Around 84 per cent knew that HIV can be sexually transmitted.

However, despite this knowledge of HIV, only 6 per cent of women in the study could correctly name an HIV testing facility. Furthermore, only 8 per cent reported receiving HIV counselling during pregnancy, and only 3 per cent of women had an HIV test done. However, one positive thing was that women in the current study had much better knowledge of HIV than women in the one conducted in 2001. Over the past several years, community and government efforts have increased rural women’s HIV awareness, says Dr A Dayalchand, Director of IHMP. Still, two significant barriers exist, namely, lack of discussion by antenatal care providers about HIV and lack of awareness of HIV testing services, including VCT.

Few women could correctly name a HIV testing facility or reported awareness of VCT. Furthermore, only half of HIV test utilizers reported receiving associated counselling.

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