HIV in India Spreading Into General Population; Country Had 610,000 New HIV Cases in 2002, Study Says
India recorded about 610,000 new HIV cases last year, as the virus spreads into the general population mainly through sex between married men and sex workers, according to a study released Thursday, the Associated Press reports (Misra, Associated Press, 11/13). The study, which was conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau and the Population Foundation of India and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the number of HIV-positive people in the country rose from 3.97 million in 2001 to 4.58 million by the end of 2002, according to data from the country's National AIDS Control Organization. "HIV/AIDS is now spreading to the general populace of India, and if knowledge of the disease, preventive measures and counseling is not made universal then India could see an epidemic similar to that of some of the African countries," according to a PRB release. India, with a population of more than one billion, has the second largest number of HIV-positive people after South Africa (Choudhury, AFP/Yahoo! News, 11/13). The study, which used state and federal data, found that more than 85% of HIV cases are associated with unprotected sex. In addition, the study showed that in four of the six hardest-hit states, the highest HIV incidence rates were among men in the service sector, hotel employees and businessmen. "The spread from the high-risk behavior groups to the general populace is another key indicator that HIV/AIDS in India has reached epidemic proportions," the study said, adding that the clients of sex workers, "particularly married males, act as the bridge groups aiding (the spread) ... into the general population." The worst-hit states include Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland, according to the study.
Gates Foundation Grant
The Gates Foundation last month announced that it would double its funding for fighting HIV/AIDS in India to $200 million. The foundation expects that the grant, which is known as the India AIDS Initiative, will help to fund condom distribution, treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases and high-profile HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns featuring celebrities and local leaders, efforts that have been successful in other countries. Bill Gates said that the funds will also be used to reduce the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in India, which has led to the refusal of medical treatment or housing for some HIV-positive people, according to Indian AIDS advocates (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/14). Carl Haub, a PRB senior demographer, said that "because adequate efforts were not made to undo the stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS in the early epidemic stages [in Africa], the disease continued to grow silently," adding, "But I have cause to hope that the situation in India may improve as India has in fact taken action." However, the study found that only 72% of people in rural areas had heard of HIV or AIDS, while 90% of people living in urban areas had heard of the disease (AFP/Yahoo! News, 11/13). Therefore, increasing awareness levels in the 640,000 villages where the majority of the country's citizens live will be the "biggest challenge," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 11/13).
More information on HIV/AIDS in India is available online as part of kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.
Also available online is a kaisernetwork.org video feature on HIV/AIDS in India. The report -- prepared by Fred de Sam Lazaro, also a correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer -- includes interviews with people who are on frontlines of India's efforts.