India's Health Minister Talks About Marriage, Traditions And Monogamy As Tools To Fight HIV/AIDS
Author: M. G.
The new health minister of India, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, indicated the direction that future HIV prevention programs in the country should follow: the minister has in fact doubts about the necessity of stressing the attention on condom use while, in is view, more emphasis should be put on "promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife". Indian culture and traditions see marriage as a monogamous relationship, therefore HIV campaigns should also stress about integrity and moral values.
This point of view is at the origin of HIV prevention programs like the ABC of old (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use). Uganda used this strategy to fight the epidemic during the 90's and it actually worked, at least for the first years. When,in 2010, The ABC Program in Uganda started to have less effect, they also started to introduce the male circumcisions through PrePex. This is a no-pain way to operate circumcisions in adult men that reduce the risk of infection during unsafe sex but doesn't prevent it as well as condoms do. PrePex programs seemed to be working well and will grow in the next years, however Barbara Nanteza, the circumcision project manager at Uganda's AIDS Control Programme, also recognizes the limits that this measure has on a social level. "It's difficult to explain to a wife that they want to get a circumcision to [her husband], in order to prevent HIV infections, when they are supposed to be faithful to them," Nanteza said.
The Indian Minister is right in highlighting the importance for marriages to remain monogamous, since it is a matter of integrity and honesty towards social values. At the same time, you have to consider that intercourse outside of marriage can and do happen, often with individuals belonging to high-risk categories, like men who have sex with men and sex workers.
The point is probably not about the way you talk about marriage in an HIV prevention campaign, but the way marriage is generally considered by a society. When individuals feel pushed towards classical models of life that have a strict moral view, some will also feel more pushed towards betrayal. These are the people that don't fit exactly in the fabric of traditional society and that probably don't contemplate relationships the same way most people do: are they wrong, or do they have the right to express (respectfully) their nature as well as the majority? This is an important question to ask.
V.K. Subburaj, head of The Indian AIDS Control Organization, said that the 'moral fabric' in India is "becoming very thin," and he added that his agency would make changes to the information, education and communication strategy and increase its activities, particularly towards the general population. These will open to campaigns for monogamy in marriage: in my opinion, the programs should seriously consider the theme of marriage in Indian society and this will only be possibile if institutions will stop using traditions as a way and a measuring tool to tell people what to do.