Knowledge key to HIV/AIDS prevention, reproductive rights

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New Delhi, Oct 24 (UNI) The reproductive health knowledge, STI/HIV awareness and ability to demand sexual rights have increased tremendously in six districts during the three-year-long joint UN project on HIV/AIDS.

The CHARCA project, aimed at increasing capacities and reducing vulnerability of young women in the 13-25 age group to STIs and HIV infections, implemented in Aizwal (Mizoram),Bellary (Karnataka), Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), Kishanganj (Bihar) and Udaipur (Rajasthan) showed very positive results which were released by Union Minister for Labour and Convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV/AIDS Oscar Fernandes.

Every single young woman in Aizwal and 99 per cent in Guntur feel they can refuse non-consensual sex while incidence of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) across six districts is down from 55 per cent to 17 per cent. Only five per cent, six per cent and eight per cent of young women in Guntur, Kanpur and Kishanganj are willing to accept husbands with extra-marital relationships.

The CHARCA project was aimed at providing information related to STIs and rights issues, improving accessibility of quality services and building capacity and network to empower women to protect themselves against HIV and STIs. The project mandate extended to six select districts from diverse parts of the country to explore the possibility of developing a model district level intervention programme that could be implemented under the Government's National AIDS Control Program (NACP III).

The results of the project showed that the percentage of young women aware of at least one location to get condoms increased significantly across most districts but the most significant increase was in Guntur where it increased from 20 per cent to 84 per cent and Aizwal where it raised from 42 per cent to 91 per cent.

Percentage of women visiting government facilities for treatment of menstrual problems increased in every district but the most remarkable was in Aizwal (from 18 per cent to 50 per cent) and Kishanganj (from two per cent to 16 per cent).

Percentage of young men who believe condoms protect against HIV/AIDS registered an increase in each district. As much as 99 per cent of men in Aizwal believe condoms protect while across project districts, the belief that condoms protect against HIV/AIDS has increased from 65 per cent to 95 per cent among all men. Equally remarkable decrease in percentage of young women with at least one misconception about HIV/AIDS. From 96 per cent to an incredible six per cent in Aizwal and 77 per cent to 18 per cent in Kanpur.

Awareness of single partner sex as a preventive measure against STIs increased from an average of 40 per cent to 76 per cent across districts with the biggest gains in Bellary (from 9 per cent aware to 48 per cent aware) and Guntur (16 per cent to 92 per cent aware).

The incidence of STIs as such also reduced from 55 per cent to 17 per cent average across districts.

One of the biggest achievement of the programme has been awareness of sexual rights among young women. Across four districts, percentage of women unable to refuse non-consensual sex has reduced from 35 per cent unable to only seven per cent unable. Remarkably, not a single woman in Aizwal and only one per cent of women in Guntur believed they couldn't refuse non-consensual sex with their partners.

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