Kuala Lumpur: A new AIDS threat is rising in India's numerous call centres, where young staff are increasingly having unprotected sex with multiple partners in affairs developed during night shifts, a top AIDS expert has warned.
While India has made great strides in bringing down its HIV infection rate, the promiscuity among ''call centre Romeos'' is a great concern, Dr Suniti Solomon, who detected the first HIV case in India in 1986, told an international medical conference on Saturday.
The United Nations, however, still estimates there are some 2.5 million Indians living with HIV and AIDS now.
''India has reached a plateau of the infections,'' Solomon told the International Congress on Infectious Diseases, which ends on Sunday.
Her concern now is the call centres, where many of the young staff work at night to correspond with the daytime working hours of their American and European clients.
''They have all the money. They huddle together in the night. They are young, they are sexually active, so naturally they start,'' Solomon, who runs an AIDS centre in the southern city of Chennai, told The Associated Press in an interview.
She said at least three or four call centre workers visit her clinic every week to get tested for HIV because they are worried after having unprotected sex.
It is estimated that India's call centres employ some 1.3 million people, mostly youths fresh out of school and colleges, earning a starting salary of 25,000 rupees (US$600) a month, more than a government doctor's paycheck.
''You will see call centre Romeos are a major high risk for HIV,'' Solomon said.
There are no figures for how many call centre workers are infected with HIV.
Citing confessions by the visitors to her centre, Solomon said groups of young men and women rent apartments along the beach during the weekends and end up having multiple-partner sex.
''If they are having sex just among themselves, and all are non-infected it is fine. But if there is one person who has gone out of this group and brought in the virus, it will spread to everyone,'' she said.
While the ''call centre Romeo'' situation is a reflection of recent liberal values, India's anti-AIDS fight is also hampered by society's coexisting conservatism, Solomon told the conference.