The second wave of AIDS

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(Host) The AIDS crisis may have eased somewhat in this country, but commentator Nils Daulaire says that other parts of the world are bracing for another wave of this devastating illness.

(Daulaire) I just returned to Vermont from India, where I spent my time in slums and hospitals and saw firsthand the looming devastation of the second great wave of AIDS.

Like everywhere else, Indian politicians are saying, “It can’t happen here. We are a deeply moral society.” Then they point fingers at “those people” who bring it on themselves.

It’s easy to pillory women who use their bodies for money until you have visited the red light district of Bombay and talked with some of these women. One described growing up illiterate in a village, married off at the age of fifteen to a man nearly twice her age who made his living driving trucks from the port of Bombay to the interior of the vast Indian subcontinent. She lived with her in-laws, and had two children by the time she was eighteen.

Then her husband began to get sick. After months of decline, he finally visited a doctor who told him he had AIDS. In tears he told his wife, and confessed that for years he had visited make-shift brothels along India’s huge network of truck stops. Driving the truck, he explained, made him hot, and sex was necessary to cool his body down. It was only natural.

But he begged her not to tell anyone, not even his parents, to save them from the shame that comes with a diagnosis of AIDS. After all, only bad people get AIDS.

She kept his secret as he dwindled and died. And when, after his funeral, whispered word began to circulate throughout the village that he had died of that disease, her in-laws accused her of having brought it into their family – and they threw her out with her children.

Desperate, she used the few rupees she had hidden away to buy a train ticket to Bombay, where she might hope to find work and a fresh start. And when she arrived, she met a man in the train station who said he could help her.

We all know how this story ends. But I had never envisioned the tens of thousands of women, most in their teens and early twenties, most caring for young children, all making their living from renting out their bodies for twenty-five cents, crammed into a few squalid blocks. The streets teemed with men of all ages, staring, shopping for sex.

Three quarters of these women are now HIV positive. They are in no position to negotiate the use of condoms, much less to seek care for their HIV infections. Their first concern is feeding their children.

Stigma, denial, ignorance and poverty have already led to four million HIV infections in India; in the next decade that number could explode to tens of millions unless the world acts now.

The Indian politicians are wrong. It is happening there. And morality is about more than sex. It is about poverty, and illiteracy, and filthy water. Doesn’t any human being deserve better?

This is Nils Daulaire.

Doctor Nils Daulaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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