Indian Government Sets Up Committee To Investigate Validity of UNAIDS’ Estimate of 5.7M HIV Cases in Country
The Indian government has created an independent committee of experts to determine the validity of UNAIDS' estimate that there were 5.7 million HIV-positive people living in India at the end of 2005, Sujatha Rao, director-general of the country's National AIDS Control Organization, said on Friday, Reuters reports (Reuters, 6/30). According to the "2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic" released in May by UNAIDS, India has overtaken South Africa as the country with the highest number of HIV-positive people, with 5.7 million people living with the disease, compared with 5.5 million in South Africa. However, according to Karen Stanecki of UNAIDS, because of India's population of 1.1 billion -- compared with South Africa's 44 million -- the country's HIV prevalence still is considered low (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). NACO in a report released in April said there were 72,000 new reported HIV cases in India in 2005, increasing the total number of HIV-positive adults living in the country to about 5.2 million (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/25). "We stand by our figure that there are 5.2 million HIV/AIDS patients in the age group of 15 to 49 years in the country because the data given by UNAIDS is not validated for the Indian population," Rao said at a news conference, adding, "The module used by the UNAIDS was used for the first time, and it had added several assumptions in its module to arrive at the figure for all ages, including [infants]" (Hindu, 7/1). Denis Broun, country representative for UNAIDS, said, "If we can use these [global] assumptions based on actual figures, this is going to be much more refined, and we'll arrive at a better estimate." Rao said the committee is expected to report its findings about the accuracy of UNAIDS' methodology by the end of this year (Asian News International, 6/30). Rao also announced that India's National Family Health Survey is for the first time collecting random blood samples from 29 states, which should give a more accurate picture of HIV prevalence in the country. The government currently relies on blood samples taken from pregnant women at 750 clinics across the country (Times of India, 7/3).
Antiretroviral Drug Access
In related news, Rao on Friday announced that the country plans to provide about 100,000 HIV-positive people with access to no-cost antiretroviral drugs by early next year, BBC News reports (BBC News, 6/30). About 35,000 people are currently receiving no-cost antiretrovirals from 52 clinics throughout the country, and Rao said the government aims to provide 85,000 people with access by August. Health officials said the government plans to increase to 100 the number of sites where antiretrovirals are distributed by early next year. Indian health officials also are increasing efforts in a program that promotes condom use and safer sex, expands treatment and outreach to people in six states with high HIV prevalence and bolsters the country's mother-to-child HIV prevention program, according to Rao. "We are also creating awareness among people in schools, colleges and through the media on what causes HIV," she said, adding, "Once people know that AIDS is treatable, although not curable, it will reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease." The Indian government has allocated about $200 million for fiscal year 2006-2007 for HIV/AIDS programs, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (George, AP/CBS News, 6/30).