India’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic ‘Growing Very Rapidly,’ Little Being Done, Global Fund Director SaysGlobal Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Executive Director Richard Feachem on Tuesday said that HIV/AIDS is quickly spreading in India and that the country is doing little to stop it, BBC News reports. "The epidemic is growing very rapidly. It is out of control," he said, adding, "There is nothing happening in India today that is big or serious enough to prevent it." Feachem said people in India need to "wake up" and take the problem "seriously" or "millions" of people will die, according to BBC News. He also estimated that India now has more HIV-positive residents than South Africa, which, according to official statistics, has the highest number of HIV-positive residents. UNAIDS figures released in July 2004 showed that about 5.3 million HIV-positive people live in South Africa, with a possible range of between 4.5 million and 6.2 million. The data showed that between 2.5 million and 8.5 million HIV-positive people live in India, although a government estimate places the number at 5.1 million. India's range is larger because there is a lack of reliable data about HIV prevalence in the country, according to BBC News. The epidemic in India is "compounded by widespread ignorance" and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, according to Feachem, BBC News reports. He also criticized the high cost of antiretroviral drugs in the country. "It is easier to get Indian generic drugs in Africa than it is to get them in India," he said, adding, "That is a scandal and has to be changed" (BBC News, 4/19).
Indian Government Reaction
The Indian government "dismissed" Feachem's claims that India now has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases of any country worldwide, BBC News reports. S.Y. Quraishi, director of India's National AIDS Control Organization, said the claims are "nonsense," adding, "We stand by our figure of 5.1 million" (Pandey, BBC News, 4/20). "Whether it is more than five million or three million or two million, we still have a problem," Quraishi said, adding, "We should not be complacent." He said that NACO expects to receive "an unprecedented" $121 million in funding this year from the Indian government, according to the Financial Times. "We will use that and spend every last penny," Quraishi said, adding, "I would like to ask for more, and I think we will get it. We feel that we can scale up the program dramatically." NACO over the past year has expanded its number of sentinel HIV testing sites and is working to incorporate HIV prevention and anti-discrimination messages into "mainstream" media, the Times reports. The agency expects to release new national HIV estimates in May (Marcelo, Financial Times, 4/21).