India To Announce Decrease in HIV/AIDS Caseload Estimate, Increase in Spending on Prevention Programs
India this week is expected to announce a decrease in the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases nationwide and a sixfold increase in spending on HIV prevention programs during the next five years, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (Lahiri, AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/1).
The number of actual HIV/AIDS cases in India might be millions fewer than current estimates, according to a new, unreleased household survey. UNAIDS estimates from 2006 show that there are about 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India. However, a preliminary analysis of the National Family Health Survey -- which was conducted under international supervision and with U.S. funding -- suggests that India has between two million and three million people living with HIV/AIDS, according to several sources, including U.S. epidemiologists and the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The survey concluded last year (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/11).
Although Indian officials will not disclose the new estimate, National AIDS Control Organization Director-General Sujatha Rao said there will "certainly be a decline" in the estimate. Denis Broun, head of UNAIDS in India, said that when UNAIDS gave the current estimate of 5.7 million, the agency "said it could [be] as low as 3.4 million and as high as nine [million]. That is a very broad range. It might be that it could be even lower." Local media reports have said the new estimate likely is around three million to 3.5 million cases, AFP/Yahoo! News reports.
Some officials have said the decrease in the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases likely is because of improved, more accurate data. Broun said that India has increased the number of testing sites where samples are taken from both low- and high-risk groups. "We also have a population-based survey, we have a good behavioral surveillance survey, a whole set of surveys has been done in high-presence states among high-risk groups," Broun added.
According to NACO epidemiologist Ajay Kumar Khera, more than 1,100 testing sites were used to generate the new estimate, compared with 700 for the earlier estimate. Khera added that northern India had been underrepresented in previous estimates, skewing the nationwide estimate toward the south, which has a larger number of HIV cases. Rao said that the country would not scale down its HIV prevention efforts if the estimate is lower. "It's not a curable disease. The mode of transmission is due to reasons over which there is very little human control: private and personal behaviors like sex," Rao said, adding, "Numbers don't matter. To bring in behavior change is a tough call, so you can't ever relax or it's just a matter of time before [HIV] can invade the whole country."
In addition, an unnamed government official has announced that about $3 billion will be dedicated to the next phase of India's HIV prevention efforts, which will be launched on Friday in New Delhi. One-third of the funding will come from foreign donors, the official said (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/1).