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Condom Promotion-Crucial To HIV/AIDS Prevention

A UK community survey reveals that more than one in three HIV positive gay men have unprotected sex. The survey is due to be published in the journal Sexually// Transmitted Infections .

Yet, that’s not all. Almost one in five HIV negative men say that they do the same.

The findings based on a survey of men at gay bars, clubs, and saunas in London, Manchester, and Brighton between 2003 and 2004, involved information on lifestyle, background, and sexual behavior. As part of the survey, almost 3600 questionnaires were handed out of which 2640 of which were completed. Saliva samples were also requested to find out about HIV prevalence, and 2311 men agreed to provide these.

Results showed that the rate of HIV infection was highest in Brighton, at almost 14 percent, and lowest in Manchester, at 8.6 percent. But the rates of undiagnosed infection was high in all three cities, ranging from one in three in Brighton to more than four out of 10 (44 percent) in London.

A surprising observation was that across the entire sample, one in three men who were HIV positive did not know they had the infection. This was despite the fact that over two thirds of these men said they had been to a sexual health (GUM) clinic within the past year.

Almost one in five (18 percent) of HIV negative men and over a third (37 percent) of HIV positive men said they had had unprotected sex with more than one partner in the past year. Over the same time period, one in five HIV negative men and four out of 10 HIV positive men said that they had had a sexually transmitted infection.

As a conclusion of this survey, the authors say that despite the availability of treatment and a national policy to promote HIV testing, a significant proportion of infection remains undiagnosed.

They call for renewed efforts to be made to boost diagnosis and curb risk behaviors that encourage onward transmission of HIV and other sexually transm itted infections.

Coming back home, to India, though the basic findings apply here as well, surprises exist too.

The swank bar of Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation (CITCO) at Kala Gram will surely surprise you the moment you walk into it. From offering free condoms to condom-shaped beer mugs, the first-of-its-kind condom bar in the country will not only offer an unconventional ambience, but also spread a social message. Condoms in different sizes, color and texture carrying different price tags would be widely available in the bar, CITCO managing director J.S. Bir says. Free condoms of a particular quality will also be available.

Offering all kinds of alcoholic beverages, the bar will be inaugurated on May 2 and will have timings similar to the others in the city but it'sexclusivity lies somewhere else.

While the interior of the bar has been designed with condoms, beer mugs are condom shaped and waiters' attire are printed with condoms. The entrance of the bar has a huge red ribbon, symbolizing HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives. Besides, in want of change currency of lower denomination, the bar will try to push condoms to its customers (recall toffees being offered by some shopkeepers).

"The bar aims at providing awareness on condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission. It is part of our social commitment initiatives," says Bir.

So, what is their goal? "Our major target is the youth. There is no commercial consideration. “It is our social responsibility”, Bir stresses.

The bar will not only sell liquor but also promote healthier drinks. Reasonable discounts would be also offered in health drinks segment, says Bir.

Although condom use has increased in India over the past few decades, barely more than 3 percent of sexually active people regularly use condoms; even then, it is mainly for contraception rather than protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If the rapid spread of HIV in India is to be halted, condoms must become much more widely known about, accepted and used.

India's National AIDS Control Organization plans to increase the number of condom vending machines in the country by fivefold under the third phase of the country's National AIDS Control Program, which is scheduled to be launched in April.

According to an unnamed NACO official, the organization is planning to increase the number of condom distribution outlets from 600,000 to three million and is planning to increase the number of distributed condoms from 1.6 billion to 3.5 billion over the next three years.

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