Primary research on HIV/AIDS in India has predominantly focused on known risk groups such as sex workers, STI clinic attendees and long-distance truck drivers, and has largely been undertaken in urban areas. There is evidence of HIV spreading to rural areas but very little is known about the context of the infection or about issues relating to health and social impact on people living with HIV/AIDS. In-depth interviews with nineteen men and women infected with HIV who live in rural areas were used to collect experiences of testing and treatment, the social impacts of living with HIV and differential impacts on women and men. Eight focus group discussions with groups drawn from the general population in the four villages were used to provide an analysis of community level views about HIV/AIDS. While men reported contracting HIV from sex workers in the cities, women considered their husbands to be the source of their infection. Correct knowledge about HIV transmission co-existed with misconceptions. Men and women tested for HIV reported inadequate counselling and sought treatment from traditional healers as well as professionals. Owing to the general pattern of husbands being the first to contract HIV women faced a substantial burden, with few resources remaining for their own or their children’s care after meeting the needs of sick husbands. Stigma and social isolation following widowhood were common, with an enforced return to the natal home. Implications for potential educational and service interventions are discussed within the context of gender and social relations.
Journal of Biosocial Science (2005) 37 641-655 [DOI: 10.1017/S0021932004006893]