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EDITOR’S NOTE - As AIDS experts from around the world meet this wee

July 18, 1992

EDITOR’S NOTE - As AIDS experts from around the world meet this week in Amsterdam to review their setbacks and gains, many fear some of the world’s poorest countries will be ravaged by the spread of AIDS through heterosexual intercourse. Here is a look at the problem in one of those countries, India.

Undated (AP) _ By AJAY SINGH Associated Press Writer

BOMBAY, India (AP) - Ramesh Patel is dying slowly of AIDS in a government hospital, but he doesn’t know it. Doctors say he’s uneducated and will never understand.

″We don’t talk about AIDS to illiterate patients,″ said Dr. Shashi Kala of the Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital in Bombay. ″Besides, his immunity is almost zero - it would kill him to know.″

So, Patel, 48 and severely ill with a host of diseases, spends most of his time staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out just what is wrong with him.

″Doctors have told me I have tiny germs in my blood which will weaken me and make me dizzy,″ said Patel, a rickshaw puller who contracted AIDS from a prostitute in Bombay’s seedy red-light district. ″I’m sure I’ll be all right.″

Across from Patel’s bed lay Suresh Sagar, a 32-year-old fruit seller and a bisexual who is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. Kala pointed to the half dozen tattoos on Sagar’s body - which he called a sign of his ″hypersexuality″ - and said: ″He just wants to enjoy life, he will not listen to advice.″

When asked if he will continue to have sex after he is discharged from hospital, Sagar said: ″Absolutely 3/8″

This week in Amsterdam, 12,000 delegates will attend the eighth International Conference on AIDS. For the first time, the conference, billed as the world’s largest on the disease, will stress the social aspects of global anti-AIDS programs - a major obstacle in combating AIDS in developing countries.

Experts are worried over widespread ignorance about the disease and the minor anti-AIDS campaign in India, the world’s second most populous country, where only 52 percent people can read.

″AIDS will continue to spread, no matter what we do,″ said Dr. Jai Narain, a World Health Organization official connected with India’s AIDS program. ″The rate of infection is increasing rapidly and given our sheer numbers (844 million people) there’s bound to be an explosion.″

WHO and Harvard University researchers fear that India - where an estimated 400,000 to 1 million people are infected with HIV - and other Asian countries will be the world’s worst affected area by the turn of the century, outpacing sub-Saharan Africa.

As in Africa, heterosexual transmission is India’s greatest problem, compounded by the widespread belief that males aren’t macho if they use condoms. And in a country where homosexuals rarely admit their sexuality for fear of harassment, the AIDS rate among them is unknown.

Manjit Singh, a truck driver from the northern Punjab state, said he’s never worn a condom in his life.

″I’ve never worn socks or a tie so why should I wear a condom?″ he said, speaking in Bombay’s Kamatipura district, where 30 percent of the city’s 100,000 prostitutes may be infected with HIV, according to government figures.

In India, ″the very thought of talking about condoms means that you are encouraging people to have sex,″ said Kusum Sahgal, a doctor at the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi.

Indeed, in colloquial Hindi, premarital or extramarital sex is referred to as a ″bad deed,″ making most talk about sex taboo.

The government launched a campaign last year called ″Protect Yourself Against AIDS Through Our Cultural Heritage and Wisdom,″ using messages from ancient Indian scriptures favoring moderation in sex and condemning prostitution, homosexuality and adultery.

But a major hurdle was how to get the campaign’s message across to the people, most of who don’t read papers or own TVs.

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