FOR ALL the government's AIDS-awareness posters and programmes, it seems the message has not quite reached the honourable members of Parliament. Some MPs believe the disease will spread if you work with or share food and clothes with HIV-positive people.
A survey report released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday exposed the misconceptions of parliamentarians regarding HIV/AIDS.
Of the 250 MPs surveyed - 157 from the Lok Sabha and 93 from the Rajya Sabha - 64 per cent think the disease will spread if one shares clothes with HIV-infected persons. Fifty-six per cent think the disease will be transmitted if one shares food and utensils with HIV-positive persons; 40 per cent say working with an HIV-infected person is enough to contract the disease; 22.8 per cent believe the disease will spread through toilets used by infected people. They are, of course, wrong.
The survey, "Person-to-Person Advocacy", was done by the Indian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development. It says all MPs have heard of and have some knowledge of HIV/AIDS, thanks to radio and TV. Not all findings are dismal: 76.4 per cent know that sex with multiple partners can cause AIDS and condom is a safe bet; 79.6 per cent are aware that infected needles can transmit the disease; 53.6 per cent know HIV spreads from infected mother to foetus. But only 48.8 per cent are aware that HIV transmits through blood transfusion.
The PM said the findings brought together "very interesting and provocative material on the perceptions and approach of our elected representatives in a vital area of national policy".
Is there a remedy for the MPs' knowledge-deficiency syndrome? A large-scale awareness programme was needed, said BJP MP Maya Singh. Mabel Rebello, AICC secretary and MP, agreed, "We should have more debates in the House.”