Experts challenge new India HIV estimate


New Delhi : As India halves its AIDS scare by decreasing the HIV-infected population from 5.2 million to 2.5 million, non-governmental experts said that just reducing the number without proper justification is creating doubt in the civil society.

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"The diarrhoea, malaria, chikungunya and dengue cases are not going down but how come the HIV/AIDS cases have gone down by over 50 percent?" asked Anandi Yuvraj, project managers AIDS, at Path, an international non-government organisation (NGO).

"They have reduced the number by almost 2.7 million but what happened to these people? How come the health minister (Anbumani Ramadoss) gave us data without proper justification? This is a little difficult to digest," she added.

Anjali Gopalan, head of Naz Foundation in Delhi, was also uncomfortable with the data. "We have to wait and watch the development. If the government is claiming that it has expanded the surveillance then I am sure the number will fluctuate further.

"We are going to take stock of the money spent so far on HIV eradication. There should be some accountability on the part of government authorities," Gopalan told IANS.

According to Yuvraj, the government, on one hand, says that HIV continues to emerge in new areas like West Bengal and Bihar and on the other, reduces the national figure.

"Do we have even proper medical facilities? Even if the number has really gone down, can the government say that it has covered all with anti-retroviral drug treatment? Quantifying is one aspect but what about the quality of life?" she added.

The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), while launching the National AIDS Control Programme-III (NACP-III) Friday, underlined that the 2006 surveillance data have identified selected pockets of high prevalence in northern states.

"There are 29 districts with high prevalence, particularly in West Bengal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Bihar," the NACO report says.

The figures show an increase in HIV infection among people who inject drugs and homosexuals.

"The HIV positive among injecting drug users (IDUs) has been found to be significantly high in metro cities of Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, and Chandigarh. Besides, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Kerala also show high prevalence among IDUs," NACO director general K. Sujatha Rao said.

Pointing fingers at the findings, Anushree Mishra of the Global AIDS Programme, an international NGO, said: "What's the basis of this report?

"I will really question the figure given by the Indian government and UNAIDS. How can the number come down from 5.2 million to 2.5 million?"