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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Awareness on HIV/AIDS Among Women in A Refugee Community

Author(s): P Bibi, P Panda, AJ Purty, J Bazroy

Vol. 31, No. 3 (2006-07 - 2006-09)

P Bibi, P Panda, AJ Purty, J Bazroy


WHO has stated that almost 50% of newly infected HIV infected adults worldwide in 2003 were women. India presently has 5.1 million cases of HIV/AIDS and is the 2nd country after South Africa1. In 13 states of India only 1 in 6 women had heard about AIDS and also their knowledge about transmission and prevention was poor. Further rural, less educated, poor women were least likely to be AIDS aware2.

The ravages of ethnic war in neighboring SriLanka have caused a major uprooting of its Tamil minority population. Seeking refuge they posed a major humanitarian problem to the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. The ‘Ceylon Colony’ refugee camp in Kizhuputtupattu village in Villipuram District, Tamil Nadu opened in 1990.

This study was undertaken to find out the knowledge of HIV/ AIDS among the women with special reference to causative factors, modes of transmission, prevention and the sources of information.

Materials and Methods

A cross sectional study was conducted in the Ceylon Colony Refugee Camp in Kizhuputtupattu village near Pondicherry. This camp comes within the service area of the Koonimedu, Rural health centre of the Department of Community Medicine, Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences, Pondicherry. Prior permission was obtained from the camp headman and the study was restricted to the women above the age of 15 years available in the camp. A pretested questionnaire translated into the local language(Tamil) was used. Most questions were closed ended. The data was collected by interview technique by a health team consisting of doctors assisted by female health workers. The data collection was completed during 2003.


The total number of women that were interviewed were 232. Most of the women belonged to the 15-29 year age group (56.0%) while the elder population (>44 yrs) were only 9.5%.

Majority of the women 48.2% had an education from the 5th to the 10th standard followed by 29.2% below the 5th standard and 18% were illiterate and only 4.2% of the women had studied above class 10.

Almost two-third of the women 62.5% (145) responded with ‘No’ to insect bites as the cause. Similarly two-third of the women 64.6% (150) responded that droplet infection does not cause HIV/AIDS. However a small number of them responded that insect bites 12.9% (30) and droplet infection 14.7% (34) are a causative factor for HIV/AIDS. Virus being the causative factor for HIV/AIDS was responded with a `Yes’ by 45.7% (106) of the women while 39.7% (92) said that they did not know and a further 14.6% (34) said that it did not cause.

Approximately one fourth of them responded that touch/ shakinghands, staying together/ sharing clothes, using the same vessels and helping accident victims can spread AIDS. A few of them 14.7% (34) said that even dog bites/ cat scratches can spread AIDS. The following modes of transmission had a high ‘Yes’ response – sexual contact 92.2% (214), sharing infected needles 88.4% (205), infected mother to child 85.4% (198) and sharing infected razor blades 75.9% (176).

About prevention of HIV/AIDS 85.8% (199) of them responded with a “Yes” to one faithful sexual partner, 66.4% (154) responded to using condoms, 44.4% (103) responded to using HIV tested blood for transfusion. About one fifth of them said that taking only boiled could prevent AIDS. The study population were also questioned with regard to the sources of information on HIV/AIDS. Radio/ T.V. was the main source of information as responded by 81.5% (189) of them. However few women stated that they recieved information by doctors/health workers 10.3% (24), friends/relatives 5.2% (12) and posters/ educational material 3%(7).


The present study was compared to other study populations as there are few studies on refugee women. In this study we find that about two third of the women were confident that insect bite and droplet were not causative factors of HIV/AIDS and 45.7% of them said that virus is, a causative factor of HIV/AIDS. Singh J et al3 found in their study that 45% of the urban pregnant women in Delhi responded correctly that is not caused by mosquito bite. Oladepo D et al4 found among university students in Nigeria that 58.7% knew that AIDS is caused by a virus.

Almost 25% of the women in the study population responded that touch/shaking hands, staying together/sharing clothes, using the same vessels and helping accident victims can spread AIDS. Oladepo D et al4 found in their study that 72.6% said that AIDS could be spread by kissing, hugging, shaking hands. Farid R et al5 found in their study in Pakistan that 57% of the female college students said that second hand clothing cannot spread AIDS.

The following modes of transmission had a high “Yes” response in the present study population—sexual contact (92.2%), sharing infected needles (88.4%) infected mother to child (85.4%) and sharing infected razor blades (75.9%). Farid et al5 in their study found that over 70% said HIV is transmitted through sexual contact, infected blood transfusion, re-use of infected needles. Shrotri et al6 in their study among pregnant women in Pune India found that over 74% displayed knowledge of primary transmission routes and 70% displayed knowledge of maternal to child transmission. The methods of prevention of HIV/AIDS as answered by the study population were only one faithful sexual partner using condom using HIV tested blood for transfusion respectively. Also about one fifth of them said that taking only boiled could prevent AIDS. The study conducted by Lahiri et al7 among women in the 13 states of India reported that 55% of them said that AIDS could be prevented by practicing “safe sex” of which 28% mentioned condoms. In the study by Shrotri et al6 only 8% of the women knew methods of prevention. In the study population Radio/T.V. was the main source of information, while 10.3% received information from doctors/ health workers, 5.2% from relatives and 3% from posters/ educational materials. Many studies have found that Television/ Mass media is the commonest source of information. Henderson et al8 found 85% due to television , Singh et al3 found 86.3% due to mass media and 74.6% due to television, Poddar et al9 found 67% to be due to television and other media, Lahiri et al7 found that television was the greatest source. Shrotri et al6 found that along with television written material was also a major source of information. In contrast Lagarde et al10 found in a rural community in Senegal that 52% of the women had cited local health center as the source of AIDS information.

The women in this refugee camp seem to be quite aware of the cause, modes of transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS as compared with many of the other populations mentioned. However this study group does have many misconceptions. Creating awareness about HIV/AIDS still remains a challenging task especially in removing the many misconceptions that are prevalent.


  1. http://www.who.ind
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  9. Poddar AK, Poddar DS, Mandal RN. Perceptions about AIDS among residents of a Calcutta slum. Indian J Public Health. 1996; 40 (1): 4-9.
  10. Lagarde E, Pison G, Enel C. Risk behaviours and AIDS knowledge in a rural community of Senegal: relationship with sources of AIDS information. Int J Epidemiol. 1998; 27 (5): 890-6.

Deptt. of Community Medicine, Pondicherry Institute of Medical
Sciences, Pondicherry 605014

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