In a shift from its years old policy of advocating abstinence-be faithful-use condoms (ABC) to keep AIDS at bay, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) is now all set to preach morality, asking people to stay away from extramarital and premarital sex.
The move comes after a meeting of the organisation with Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan last week where he reportedly urged the department to infuse some moral lessons in its campaign to create awareness about the disease.
“The minister feels there should be a moral component to creating awareness. For example, in injectible drug users we have traditionally provided them with injectors but not talked about the need to stay off drugs. NACO has always talked about the need to be faithful, to stick to a single partner, in the battle against AIDS. In our upcoming messages, we will also talk about the need to stay away from premarital or extramarital sex. There is no harm in strengthening the moral fabric of society,” Dr V K Subburaj, Secretary of the Department of AIDS Control, told The Indian Express.
He said this would not mean any less emphasis on measures like condom dispensation or distribution of injectors as these are targeted more towards high-risk groups like commercial sex workers and injectible drug users.
Harsh Vardhan has been quoted in a New York Times blog as having said that in concentrating on the condom aspect, the AIDS control programme had sent a “wrong” message that illicit relationships are alright provided protection is used. In a clarification issued from the US, the minister Wednesday denied discounting the role of condoms in AIDS prevention.
“Marital fidelity is the best insurance — state has a duty to reiterate this fact. My statement on informing people on the supremacy of fidelity as an AIDS prevention measure is not only a piece of cultural advice but also a scientific one. So as minister of health I find it justified to include this simple message in the communication strategy of the government’s anti-AIDS programmes. Condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner. Prevention is always better than cure,” Harsh Vardhan said.
Subburaj said it was a casual comment made by the minister that had been blown out of proportion.