No, this is not a blog entry about soccer or cricket. Sorry.
December 1 is World Aids Day. Considering how prevalent Aids is in India and considering I'll be on my way there on the 26th I have decided to do my bit to make people aware that we are far from out of the woods.
For everyone who gets tested and insists partners get tested, good for you. For everyone who won't have anything to do with anyone who won't use a condom, good for you.
You should know you represent the tip of the iceberg.
It is estimated that there are approximately 2.4 million men and women in India who are currently living with HIV. Let me put that into perspective for you: Ottawa, Canada's capital and our 4th largest metropolitan area has a population of just over 1 million. So there are more than 2 times the number of people in India who are either HIV Positive or have Aids!
And contrary to what you may be thinking right about now, it's not just the sex trade workers and impoverished who are affected. It now affects all sections of Indian society including housewives and the wealthy -- and a huge number who are under 30 years old.
Here's another way of coming to terms with the severity of the problem:
When I had my consultation with a health care professional at a travel medical clinic as part of my India preparations she told me that under no circumstances should I have a manicure or pedicure while I'm in India. Perplexed, I asked her why. "HIV and Aids" was her short answer. "Do not, I repeat, do not let anyone use any kind of a sharp object that could cut or puncture your skin", she went on. End of conversation.
"But I am staying in 5 and 6-star hotels and heritage palace hotels", I said. "Surely in those kinds of luxurious surroundings there won't be a problem", I countered.
"Under no circumstances" she repeated.
So what about Canada?
The latest statistics I could find are from the end of 2006. At that time 18,560 men were suffering from Aids and 1,866 women -- while 47,523 men were HIV Positive and 9,569 were women. 2,802 of the males with Aids are between 15 and 29. 471 of the females are between 15 and 29. 11,180 of the males who are HIV Positive are between 15 and 29 and 3,513 are female. What's it all add up to?
77,518 in Canada versus 2,400,000 in India!
I think we need a huge, online, worldwide brainstorm to come up with some ideas about how we can get the message about prevention across in a compelling and relevant way. Because the real challenge is, to quote Ratna Gaekwad, outreach co-ordinator with the Delhi NGO Pratyatna 2, "How do you talk HIV/AIDs to someone who does not know the basics about health and hygiene?
Who wants to start the ball rolling?