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HIV/AIDS on Rise in Jammu and Kashmir

HIV and AIDS infections have shown a sharp rise in Jammu and Kashmir. Official records say HIV/AIDS cases have shot up from two in 1999 to 745 now, reports Grassroots Features. //

Although the state lies in a low prevalence risk zone, with an infection rate among the high-risk and low-risk groups standing at 0.95 percent and 0.06 percent respectively, the statistics are changing.

Concentrations of migrant labourers, truck drivers, security personnel and the influx of tourists invariably pose a serious threat. Unofficial sources and independent studies claim the state has nearly 25,000 cases of HIV infection.

Unorganised commercial sex, the difficult terrain and socio-cultural diversity in the state make spreading awareness about the virus doubly challenging.

"Though Jammu and Kashmir lies in the low prevalence zone, it does not mean that the threat of HIV/AIDS is any less here," says M.A. Wani, project director, Jammu and Kashmir State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (JKSAPCS).

With only 56 percent literacy, disseminating information and spreading awareness about the disease has not been an easy task in the state.

"Since several languages and dialects are spoken - Kashmiri, Urdu, Dogri, Punjabi, Ladakhi, Pahari and Gujjari, it's even more challenging accomplishing minor tasks like developing video films, songs and posters," he added.

Growing numbers of intravenous drug users and increase in prostitution have also sparked fears of a worsening AIDS scenario.

However, in a novel attempt to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, the JKSAPCS has roped in religious leaders to educate people against the cause and spread of the deadly virus.

Interestingly, religious leaders are no longer hesitant to talk about HIV/AIDS and safe sex now.

Initially, the programme was implemented in six districts of Kashmir division, and nearly 600 imams (Muslim priests) have be
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