HIV :: 2.5 million people in India living with HIV

New more accurate 2006 estimates indicate that HIV affects approximately 2.5 million people in India, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said today, hailing progress in dealing with the epidemic while warning against complacency.

?The HIV burden remains substantial. India?s efforts, especially those in prevention, are noteworthy and should be further scaled up along with provision of universal access to treatment for those who need it,? said Dr. Salim Habayeb of the World Health Organization (WHO), a UNAIDS partner.

The Indian Government, with the support of UNAIDS and WHO, released the new estimates based on an expanded surveillance system and a revised and enhanced methodology enacted.

In recent years, the Indian Government has increased population groups studied to realize improvements in accuracy creating 400 new sentinel surveillance sites in 2006 and facilitating National Family Health Survey-3, a population based survey.

Despite new results that show a marginal decline in 2006, many speak against an easing of momentum in response to data findings in fear of downward revision.

Sujatha Rao, the Additional Secretary and Director General of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) said that ?new lower estimates do not mean a sharp decline in the epidemic.?

The Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Anhumani Ramadoss said AIDS is still ?a serious epidemic with the potential to trigger off.?

While there have been reductions of HIV infection rates in certain regions and among certain populations, others are seeing an increase in rates. In particular, estimates show an increase in infection rates among several higher risk groups such as people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men. While data does suggest that HIV prevalence levels are declining among sex workers in the southern states, overall prevalence levels among this group continue to be high, UNAIDS said in a news release.

Factors that hurt efforts to counter HIV spread in India include stigma and discrimination and prejudice towards those infected.

Still, many see the small-scale advancements as confidence boosters that should encourage state and partner agencies to increase the strength of HIV programmes in order to retain any current gains and move forward. ?Trends evident from latest estimates validate India?s national AIDS strategy,? said Dr. Denis Brown, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator.

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