Number of HIV/AIDS Cases in India Might be Lower Than Official Estimates, Study Says
The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in India might be lower than estimates by the government and the United Nations, according to a study published Wednesday in BMC Medicine, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. Lalit Dandona of the Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, and colleagues collected blood samples from 12,617 people ages 15 to 49 in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh -- the Indian state most affected by the virus. According to formulas used by the researchers, there are about 45,900 HIV/AIDS cases in Guntur, compared with the official estimate of 112,600 cases. According to the researchers, methods used by the Indian government and the United Nations to estimate the number of HIV/AIDS cases might be inaccurate. These methods -- which are known as "sentinel surveillance" and include using data from antenatal clinics, sexually transmitted infection clinics and public hospitals -- can lead to flawed results because the number of HIV-positive people reporting to hospitals and clinics does not accurately represent the population, Dandona said. According to the AP/Herald Tribune, people who visit public hospitals are generally from poorer parts of the general population, where HIV prevalence is higher. In addition, people living with HIV/AIDS often are referred to hospitals from private institutions, which can artificially increase HIV prevalence estimates, the AP/Herald Tribune reports (Rabinowitz, AP/International Herald Tribune, 12/12). Sentinel surveillance in the country "leads to a gross overestimation of the HIV burden in this district," Dandona said, adding, "The potential major implications of these findings for the overall HIV estimate for India need to be examined." Denis Broun, UNAIDS India coordinator, said, "One should not jump to conclusions too hastily," adding, "Even if we could find there is an overestimation in Guntur, it is not acceptable to conclude this applies to the whole of India" (Reuters, 12/13). Broun said the United Nations has revised its figures for HIV/AIDS cases in India downward in the past but added that "the results just from Guntur is not enough yet" to consider the official figures overestimations. Better figures will be available in early 2007 when the 2006 sentinel information and a national household survey are available, Broun said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 12/12).
The study is available online.