Tell teens about condoms, says doc who detected HIV in India

Teenagers in schools should be taught about safe sex, including how to use condoms, said Dr Suniti Solomon, who detected the first case of HIV/AIDS in India 25 years ago. In 1986, Dr Solomon, a microbiologist with the Government General Hospital, Chennai, announced that six women sex workers had been found to be infected by the virus.

None of the women is alive to tell about the trauma they underwent because of the stigma. "Many things have changed since then. We have drugs that can bring down viral loads. But awareness among youth remains low," said Dr Solomon, who heads YRG Care, an NGO.

Studies in many countries have shown that teens are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and contract sexually transmitted diseases. "We have already delayed introduction of sex education in schools," she said.

Many schools in countries like the US, Australia and France promote frank discussions with teenage students on anatomy, puberty, pregnancy and the risks of unprotected sex. The idea is to tell students to wait till they are old enough to experiment. In India, generally parents and teachers are shy to discuss such topics with children.

Dr Solomon said that often when she interacts with schoolchildren, their teachers leave the room.

She has been conducting such awareness programmes in schools. "Most of the children hadn't seen a condom. I tell them all about it and also how to use it. I am not encouraging them to have sex. In fact, I tell them to delay or abstain. If they don't listen to what I say, they will at least know to be safe," she said.

Sex education is a prickly subject despite Unicef spelling out the course module. Dr Solomon said the decline in prevalence of the viral infection had slackened international funding and the National AIDS Control Organization's programmes.

Many NGOs have developed helplines and web-based services as cost-effective ways to reach out to adolescents. "But we need to shed inhibitions and be open to strengthen our battle against HIV/AIDS," said Dr Solomon

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