India Could Overtake South Africa in Number of HIV Cases if Prevention Efforts Are Not Increased, Piot Predicts
In the next few years, the number of HIV-positive people in India could surpass the number of HIV-positive South Africans if India does not step up prevention efforts, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said yesterday in an interview, Reuters reports. India currently has 3.8 million HIV-positive residents, compared with 4.7 million HIV-positive South Africans. However, in India, HIV-positive adults account for only 0.7% of the national population, whereas South Africa's HIV-positive residents account for 20% of the population. Piot estimated that in 10 years, "tens of millions" of Indians would have HIV. Piot said he is "particularly concerned" about the epidemic in the western state of Maharashtra, where 2% of the adult population is HIV-positive, and in the northeast, where 30% to 40% of injection drug users have the virus. He added that the large migrant populations in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar make those states "extremely vulnerable" to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well. The Indian government has launched a national program to combat the spread of HIV, but it is hindered by social and cultural beliefs. "There's still a perception that [HIV] is something for the very poor, homosexual men and drug users," Piot explained, adding that the "shame, stigma and discrimination associated with [HIV/AIDS] make it very hard to talk about it, to be open about it, to be explicit about the messages." Government officials, religious leaders and celebrities could "play a big role" in helping dispel HIV/AIDS myths and disseminating information, he noted. "No money can replace leadership. You can have all the dollars in the world, but it's leadership at the top level that is important. ... It's very important to break the silence around [HIV/AIDS]," Piot said (Katyal, Reuters, 5/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.