Alang Shipbreakers Face AIDS Crisis
Times News Network
May 6, 2003

ALANG (BHAVNAGAR): Alang, Asia's biggest ship-breaking yard, could be sitting on a ticking AIDS bomb, waiting to explode. There are so far 75 confirmed HIV cases reported at Bhavnagar's Sir T Hospital, the only voluntary counselling and testing centre in the district. And, the agencies active in Alang-Sosiya yard have identified 38 HIV cases from Alang alone.

Dr Niloo Vaishnav, chairman of Bhavnagar blood bank, which runs Project Aids Alang (PAA) with the help of Gujarat State Aids Control Society (GSACS) says, "The incidence of HIV cases is very high in Alang. Of the 3,500 people who have come for voluntary blood testing in the last four years, nearly 38 of them have tested positive."

According to GSACS officials, the cases recorded with them are only those tested at government hospitals and the final figure could certainly be much higher.

Dr Vaishnav said on the basis of these statistics, a projection report carried out by an AIDS expert from New York-based Albert Einstein School of Medicine, showed that the prevalence of the infection could be as high as 5 per cent in Alang. This is perhaps the highest prevalence of HIV anywhere in Gujarat.

Alang has a population of around 40,000 male migrant labourers coming from Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Most of them leave their families behind to come here to earn a living. Also, almost all of them belong to the sexually active age group of 18-45 around 39 per cent are between 18-25 years and 46 per cent belong to the 25-45 age bracket.

"The problem is compounded by the fact that there are very few women in the area. This makes the area even more trouble-prone as far as passing the infection is concerned," says Mahesh Jani, project officer of PAA.

According to him, besides a high occurrence of multiple partner sexual activity, unorganised prostitution and rampant homosexuality too are the important factors.

"It has been observed that sex workers from surrounding villages come here, many of them under the pretext of selling vegetables, fruits and other goods. But this is just a camouflage for their illegal activity," says Jani. According to a rough estimate, around 7.5 per cent people who have come for voluntary blood tests suffer from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). The STDclinic in Alang gets around 50-55 patients every week.

According to Y P Deulkar, port officer, besides spreading awareness, the authorities should be given more teeth to curb prostitution. "The area supposed to be guarded is a huge 10 square miles, which is difficult with the existing number of hands," he says. The police station too does not have more than half-a-dozen personnel.

However, officials of the GSACS maintain that use of force will only worsen the situation. "The situation could have been very bad without timely intervention of the concerned agencies. But at present, it is not alarming. The incidence of HIV positive cases surely is high in Alang, but the use of force will only destroy the rapport which we have created with the affected people and some sex workers over a period of time," says Dr D M Saxena, additional project director, GSACS.

The society is planning to start an 'Enabling Environment Project' in Alang along with 10 other centres. "The programme funded by United Nations Development Programme aims at helping the affected," says R B Deshmukh, project director, GSACS.

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