HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a blood borne pathogen that can be contracted through unprotected sexual activity and through blood-to-blood contact via needle sharing or blood transfusion. In its dormant state, which can last for years, patients infected with HIV show no symptoms, but they can still pass on the virus through bodily fluid exposure and from mother to unborn child. When HIV leaves the dormant state, it is known as AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Patients with AIDS suffer from a decreased immune response, making it more likely for otherwise harmless bacteria and viruses to infect the patients and cause serious illness and death. The primary danger to AIDS patients is not the AIDS virus itself, but rather the other life threatening diseases that patients are unable to fight off due to AIDS.
In the past, the PACHE Trust has been involved in all kinds of sexual education with both adults and under 18’s. However, the aims of the organisation have shifted during the last few years, and their primary focus is now on educating sex workers on all aspects of sexual safety, in particular the risk of HIV/AIDS. PACHE trust is in contact with almost all of the two-thousand-plus sex workers currently operating in Madurai. Of these workers, less than three percent are HIV positive, well below the average in Indian cities renowned for their red-light districts, such as Mumbai. The Tamil Nadu government has been credited with dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic much more swiftly and effectively than other state governments, through measures such as the introduction of free, quality condoms for its citizens.
HIV/AIDS is a misunderstood topic by many Indians due to lack of education in schools and also a lack of willingness to discuss sexual topics. In Tamil Nadu especially, sexual topics are taboo and it has been difficult in the past for people to get accurate information on safe sex practices. In addition, condom usage is not widespread, either as contraception or as a form of disease prevention. However, due to the efforts of PACHE Trust and other similar organisations, over the last six years condom usage among sex workers in Madurai has grown from almost non-existent to almost universal. Sex workers will now insist upon safer sex practices, even if this means deceiving their clients and forcing a condom on with their mouth whilst performing oral sex. This greatly reduces the risk of contracting HIV, both for the sex workers and for the men who patronise them.