Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Rural Indian tribal communities: an emerging high-risk group for HIV/AIDS

Eknath Naik13, Arun Karpur12, Richard Taylor1, Balasubramaniam Ramaswami2, Seetharam Ramachandra2, Bindu Balasubramaniam2, Sagar Galwankar1, John Sinnott3, Sarah Nabukera4 and Hamisu M Salihu4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA

2 Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, Mysore, Karnataka, India

3 Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA

4 Department of Maternal & Child Health, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2005, 5:1  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-5-1

Published: 21 February 2005



Rural Indian tribes are anthropologically distinct with unique cultures, traditions and practices. Over the years, displacement and rapid acculturation of this population has led to dramatic changes in their socio-cultural and value systems. Due to a poor health infrastructure, high levels of poverty and ignorance, these communities are highly vulnerable to various health problems, especially, communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS. Our study sought to assess knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding sexuality, and the risk factors associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS and STDs among these communities.


A nested cross sectional study was undertaken as part of the on going Reproductive and Child Health Survey. A total of 5,690 participants age 18–44 were recruited for this study. Data were obtained through home interviews, and focused on socio-demographics, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors regarding sexuality, HIV/AIDS and other STDs.


The study revealed that only 22% of adults had even heard of AIDS, and 18 % knew how it is transmitted. In addition, only 5% knew that STDs and AIDS were related to each other. AIDS awareness among women was lower compared to men (14% vs.30 %). Regarding sexual practices, 35% of the respondents reported having had extramarital sexual encounters, with more males than females reporting extramarital affairs.


Lack of awareness, permissiveness of tribal societies for premarital or extra-marital sexual relationships, and sexual mixing patterns predispose these communities to HIV/AIDS and STD infections. There is a dire need for targeted interventions in order to curtail the increasing threat of HIV and other STDs among these vulnerable populations.