Natives of eastern Uttar Pradesh out-backs In India, who leave their homes in search of livelihood, often come back with money and gifts for their spouses- and sometimes death.
In search of petty jobs, thousands of laborers migrate from Gorakhpur, Deoria, Basti, Ballia and Sultanpur districts to Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi and even far away Singapore. These hard working villagers can be seen employed in factories, under-construction apartments, selling vegetables, pulling rickshaw and doing other menial jobs in the cities.
The majority of them do not keep their families/spouses with them and are regular visitors to the city brothels. Practicing unsafe sex, they easily fall prey to HIV. With their hard-earned money, these men have given a boost to the economy of their native villages. Visit any village and on seeing a 'pucca' house, tractor parked outside and electronic gadgets inside you could easily guess that 'bhaiya' is the master of the house.
With funds flowing, the standard of living too has improved. But, alas! These simpletons have, on the other hand, brought along some unwanted baggage too that has turned them into subject of study for the AIDS control department. Besides, money, they have also transferred HIV to their spouses.
Take the example of Ram Prasad (name changed) when the news of his death in Kolkata reached his family members in Allari in the district of Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the people there were saddened but not surprised. Reason: Ram Prasad had been sick for nearly a year. The villagers remembered that the last time they seen him he had become as thin as a stick. He was due back again but his health deteriorated and so his wife had gone to look after him a month ago. Now he was dead. And so was Dulari (name changed) his wife, after three months because of same disease called AIDS. Strangely enough, majority of villagers don't even know about AIDS, they termed it as 'Bahar ki bimari' (Disease originated from outside). Statistic wise, Ram Prasad was the eighth person to die of what is now called Bahar Ki bimari in the village in the last three years.
Keeping this in mind, the UP State Aids Control Society launched a massive awareness campaign in the villages of eastern UP after it was found that 'bhaiyas' were unknowingly transmitting the virus to their spouses. The AIDS control department organized a family health awareness drive a few months back in Gorakhpur. Several men and their wives were found HIV positive. During counseling, it came into light that while working in some metropolis, they indulged in unprotected sex and were infected.
Despite all this, official statistics are putting Uttar Pradesh firmly as one of India's low prevalence states for HIV/AIDS, even though stories from village after village show the disease making its way in. Currently, national authorities are working in collaboration with international organizations over the number of HIV/AIDS affected persons in the country but the focus remains clearly on the high prevalence states. Uttar Pradesh does not figure on this list, till date. But the disease has quietly started making its presence felt especially in the rural settlements of Eastern U.P., one of the poorest regions in the country.
According to official sources, though UP AIDS control society regularly organize an awareness campaign in those areas from where a large number of laborers had migrated to cities and other states. But the fact that the majority of the people in these areas are illiterate and ignorant about the deadly disease is making things awkward for the department. They are using audio-visual tools and folk media to create awareness among the masses.
The message to protect oneself from AIDS is also being spread through cultural programs and magic shows so that people may grasp the message easily. It is worth mentioning that the BBC trust dispatched video vans to district like Mau, Ghazipur, Barabanki districts from time to time for AIDS awareness under its community media campaign.
The department has also marked Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Agra, Meerut and Faizabad as sensitive cities that have high levels of commercial sex activity. Due to large movement of trucks on national highways, some state highways and districts located on the Indo-Nepal border have also been declared sensitive.