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Kashmir Grapples with Growing AIDS

Jammu and Kashmir has a new problem to contend with now - a sharp rise in HIV/AIDS cases. While officials claim there are 745 such cases in the insurgency-hit state, unofficial estimates peg the number at 25,000.//

In 1999, there were only two cases reported, writes Grassroots Features. The northern state lies in a low prevalence risk zone, with the infection rate among the high-risk groups (STD-infected) at 0.95 percent and among the low-risk groups at 0.06 percent.

However, the influx of migrant labourers, truck drivers, security personnel as well as tourists could result in a rise in HIV/AIDS cases.

In addition, commercial sex, the difficult terrain and socio-cultural diversity pose a tough challenge to spreading awareness about the disease.

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

"Considering the peculiar factors and present circumstances, the state is uniquely positioned and spreading awareness about the virus is a greater challenge," he added.

With only 56 percent literacy in the state, disseminating information and spreading awareness about the disease have not been an easy task. The inhospitable weather conditions and the difficult terrain also pose major hurdles.

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

The growing number of intravenous drug users and an increase in prostitution has also sparked off fears of a worsening AIDS scenario in the state.

"Existing NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation) guidelines do not provide costing and implementation of the Targe
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