HIV Spreading From High-Risk Groups Into General Population in India
India is experiencing a "breakout" of HIV/AIDS from high-risk groups, such as sex workers and drug users, into the general population, the Washington Post reports. While the countrywide prevalence among Indian adults is estimated to be between 0.9% and 1.4% -- or about 3.8 million adults out of the country's total population of one billion -- a September 2002 CIA National Intelligence Council report predicted that as many as 20 million to 25 million Indians could be HIV-positive by 2010, more than in any other country. Even now, India is estimated to be second only to South Africa in its number of AIDS cases. Health officials say that the AIDS epidemic in India is probably still in its infancy; however, they warn that unless more is done to stop the spread of HIV, "the window of opportunity could soon slam shut," creating larger problems in the future, according to the Post.
Bureaucratic Hold Ups
The national response to the disease has been "spotty at best" and is constrained by cultural barriers, bureaucratic aid distribution and resource constraints, according to the Post. "There is a fairly widespread view among educated people and opinion leaders in India that HIV/AIDS is primarily an African problem and that Hindu and Muslim culture will protect India from the most serious consequences of the virus," Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said. Government funding on AIDS has not grown in recent years, and officials have denied suggestions by outside experts that the disease is getting out of hand, according to the Post. For example, former Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha said that the NIC report findings were "completely inaccurate" and that Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was "spreading panic" when he visited the country last fall to announce a $100 million grant for fighting HIV/AIDS. Officials also refuse to lift bureaucratic constraints mandating that foreign aid flow through the government rather than go directly to private groups, subjecting the funding to annual ceilings on the amount of money that can be spent on various programs, including AIDS projects. "Donor commitment and available resources are greater than the planning ceilings allow," Tim Martineau, senior health adviser for Britain's foreign aid ministry in India, said, adding, "I believe that some states could absorb more resources and that ideally resource allocations should reflect the epidemiology of the disease" (Lancaster, Washington Post, 6/11). More information on HIV/AIDS in India is available online as part of kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.