29 November 2011
By Sumitra Deb Roy
75% HIV+ Pregnant Women In State Under 25
The Maharashtra State Aids Control Society (MSACS) wants the government and AIDS activists to "do something" to make pre–marital HIV screening socially acceptable. Statistics for recent years show that 75% of the state's HIV–positive pregnant women are under 25 and 50% are detected with the virus only at the time of their first delivery. At present, national policy allows only voluntary testing.
"It is more than evident that the women are getting the infection from their h u s b a n d s, " said Ramesh D ev k a r, MSACS project director. Lending credibility to this is a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 1997 by a researcher from Pune's National Aids Research Institute, which put the percentage of women getting HIV from their husbands at 92.
"We have to work towards a societal norm where couples insist on testing before tying the knot. Of course, making testing legal is not an option," Devkar said. This year, 2,027 pregnant women in the rest of Maharashtra and 385 in Mumbai tested positive for HIV. Over the years, the number in the state has gone down: from 4,783 in 2006, to 4,552, 4,162, 3,724 and 3,361 in subsequent years. This year, the number is 2,412 (till October). But the number is still around 3,000. "That means the birth of at least 2,000 HIV–7positive children. That is how high the probability of a child getting the infection from the mother is," said Devkar. "The debate is between discrimination and the possibility of saving two lives."
Many infected women support premarital HIV testing. Kurla resident Ananda (38; name changed) said: "I have faced the stigma of living with HIV for 11 years. My husband passed away a few years ago. I was ostracized by my in–laws to the extent that they did not allow me to meet my son for two years. I got his custody only after my mother–in–law died. Both I and my child would have been spared such a horrible life had pre–marital testing been mandatory."