Research focuses on AIDS and sexual behaviours of Indian students
Sex and the student
by Deborah Inkpen
Dr. Paul Sachdev, professor emeritus in the School of Social Work, says that the AIDS pandemic is entering its 25th year and that the number of people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is on the increase. (Photo by Chris Hammond)
About 47 per cent of unmarried and 67 per cent of married women are afraid to ask their sexual partners to wear a condom, even if they knew or had suspected that their partners had been engaging in risky sexual behaviour. Two-thirds of males said they would feel offended to be asked to wear one. These alarming statistics are from a recent study published in the American Journal of Social Work in Health Care on HIV/AIDS knowledge and sexual behaviours of university students in India.
From his small office in St. John’s College, Dr. Paul Sachdev will overwhelm you with statistics about the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in India and people’s attitudes towards the deadly virus. But what’s really at the heart of Dr. Sachdev’s research is his desire to put a stop to the spread of the disease that has gripped his homeland which has the second highest number of infections in the world after South Africa.
Dr. Sachdev, professor emeritus in the School of Social Work, said that the AIDS pandemic is entering its 25th year and that the number of people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is on the increase. In India, his findings reveal that the virus has made its way from commercial sex workers and their clients onto college campuses and into the bedrooms of married monogamous wives. His study showed that while students demonstrated a “moderate degree of knowledge” about the transmission symptomology, prognosis, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, they knew less about human sexual anatomy.
“For example, one-third of the students did not know that HIV can be present in vaginal fluid or transmitted through semen,” said Dr. Sachdev. “And despite the evidence that HIV has cut across sexual and gender boundaries, almost eight out of 10 (78.7 per cent) held a stereotypical view that AIDS is a disease of bisexual men and three out of 10 thought that it is a gay disease.”
Dr. Sachdev’s findings also reveal that many students’ perceptions of risk are low and tended “to show a lack of serious concern for contracting the disease.” Fifty seven per cent of the students did not believe that they could get infected, because the disease belonged to immoral and sinful women and gay people. Six out of 10 male and four out of 10 female students found condoms repulsive, even though they admitted they would make themselves vulnerable to HIV infection. Dr. Sachdev also found that gender inequality played a significant role in the spread of the disease as women did not feel they had the power to insist that their partners wear condoms.
His study also showed that empathy towards those inflicted with the disease was very low; 63.6 per cent of students would not allow people with aids to fully participate in school and at work. Of great concern was that nurses, who are on the front line of AIDS patient care, had low level of comfort in working with the patients.
Dr. Sachdev feels that, “India’s conservative society has undergone profound changes during the past two decades or so, largely influenced by television soaps, Bollywood movies and music videos that portray sexual themes. “My study shows that increased sexual activity among these young students with minimum or non-use of condoms greatly increases their exposure to the risk of HIV/AIDS infection,” he said.
Dr. Sachdev collected his data using an anonymous questionnaire from 1,272 students enrolled in 11 colleges located in four states in India. The questionnaire measured the student knowledge and attitudes towards AIDS/HIV, perception of personal risk, gender equality, sexual knowledge and behaviour and condom use.
Dr. Sachdev plans to return to India to share his findings with students and faculty in 2006-2007 and to continue his research to assess the impact of knowledge and education campaign by government on university students’ behaviour change in terms of prevention. His study is funded by Shastri Indo-Canadian institute as well as a grant from the university vice-president (research).