The number of new HIV infections in four south Indian states home to most of India’s 5.1 million people with the virus, has fallen by more than a third, rare good news in the fight against AIDS, a study reported.
India has the world’s second-highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS – after South Africa – but a study in the medical journal, The Lancet, said active surveillance and robust peer intervention among high risk groups such as female sex workers had had an impact in the south.
The Indo-Canadian study carried out by the University of Toronto and an Indian research institute reported HIV prevalence among women aged 15 to 24 years in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had fallen from 1.7 percent to 1.1 percent in a four-year period.
New infections fell by 35 percent between 2000 and 2004. The four states account for 75 percent of people living with HIV in India.
“We are seeing a decline and it’s real,” Dr. Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto, said at a news conference.
The team said new infections among men visiting STI clinics in the four southern states – which are home to 30 percent of India’s billion-plus population – fell 36 percent.
India has been pushing condom use as key to its anti-AIDS strategy, along with loyalty to one’s spouse.
The study said the fall in new infections was seen across the rural-urban divide as well as among the literate and illiterate.
Dr. Rajesh Kumar, the main author of the study, said the study ruled out mortality as a reason for the fall in new infections as the number of deaths seen in the HIV prevalence data had decreased in the four-year period.
Last year, India’s health ministry said new HIV infections had plunged to 28,000 in 2004 from 520,000 in 2003, sparking disbelief among health experts, including UNAIDS, the global body’s AIDS agency, which said India’s count could be unreliable.
But the study in the Lancet warned that gaps remained in HIV surveillance in north India, home to populous states like Uttar Pradesh and impoverished Bihar with a combined population of around 250 million.
“The northern states are much more of a challenge as there are fewer HIV surveillance sites,” Jha said.