New Delhi, Sep 14 Not so long ago, the mere mention of the word "sex" would raise eyebrows and spark a debate in Jamia Millia Islamia, recall old-timers at the 90-year-old university. Today, however, students freely walk up to a university facility to collect condoms.
The transformation in outlook towards sex-related issues has occurred partly because the university has taken the lead in setting up a unique health centre, which not only creates awareness about sex-related health problems like HIV/AIDS but also educates students on personal hygiene.
"Students used to shy away from any workshop that was related to physical awareness or sex education for that matter," Abid Hussain, counsellor at the Youth Friendly Health Care (YFHC) centre in Jamia Millia Islamia, said.
"But the situation has changed to a great degree. Today students come and ask for condoms without any hesitation. They want to know about their safety and are ready to take precautions. Self-awareness is on the rise," added Hussain.
What started with small Red Ribbon clubs and weekly National Service Scheme (NSS) workshops is now a path-breaking health-awareness hub in the university, he said.
The centre's main aim is to promote youth health on the campus and create awareness about prevention of HIV/AIDS. In 2009-10, there were 7,290 people living with AIDS in the national capital; the disease affects 2.5 million people in India.
The centre has already reached out to nearly 14,000 young people studying in the sprawling campus of Jamia in the Okhla area of south Delhi.
"From holding private counselling sessions on HIV/AIDS to giving condoms to students, this centre is creating awareness in every possible way," said Hussain, adding that on an average 10-15 students visit it daily.
The centre was inaugurated by Delhi Health Minister Kiran Walia on August 12, celebrated as the International Youth Day. It was opened in collaboration with the Delhi State AIDS Control Society (DSACS), under the Delhi government.
Doctors and youth consultants are available round-the-clock for personal counselling session with any of its 16,000 students.
"We ensure that every student's privacy is respected. Confidentiality is a prime issue," added Hussain.
Seeing the popularity of the centre, the authorities are now planning to reach out to more and more students. One way is by roping in the university's Red Ribbon clubs.
The centre also shares a link with a toll-free helpline that provides guidance on teenage problems, puberty and other matters of reproductive health.
Emphasising the importance of opening such a centre in the university, Faizi O. Hashmi, project director of the DSACS, said: "The aim was to provide clinical services to students on campus and simultaneously disseminate information pertaining to health and youth awareness programmes. It's happening now."
The Delhi unit is already running 94 integrated counselling test centres, nine anti-retroviral treatment centres and five drop-in centres for those seeking medical help on HIV/AIDS in the city. This is their first initiative with a university, he said.
According to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) report for 2008-09, over 35 percent of all reported AIDS cases in India occur among young people in the age group of 15-24 years, making the group highly vulnerable.
Unprotected sex is suggested to be the prime reason for the disease and also the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
"Students want awareness to be presented in an interesting way. So we combine youth health seminars with vocational trainings such as public speaking and job-oriented workshops," Tasveer Khan, who has been organising workshops for the Jamia centre, said.
Coming in soon at the YFHC is an audio-visual room that would screen documentaries and create awareness through various other multimedia tools. The counsellor's room also provides literature on youth health and AIDS awareness.
Students also have a word of praise for the centre.
Anjali Arora, a law student in Jamia, said: "We had an hour-long session on public speaking in the centre last week and there was a short skit on HIV prevention also."
"It actually made me feel responsible towards my safety and health," she added.