Monday, November 20, 2006

India must get on top of its HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2007 or risk seeing it spiral out of control

Jonathan Allen:

"The signs are still ominous," Ashok Alexander, the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's $258-million Indian HIV-prevention project, told Reuters in an interview.

He said the rising prevalence of HIV in more than 100 districts in which the foundation operates showed that a decade of government efforts had not slowed the virus, which is now estimated to have infected 5.7 million Indians.

"The huge challenge is scaling up prevention efforts. 2007 is when we need to have done this by," added Alexander, who has repeatedly said India's epidemic is at a tipping point. "It's very urgent."

Alexander, speaking at the foundation's New Delhi offices on Friday, said old-fashioned and inefficient management within the government's National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) was the main obstacle to success.

Denis Broun, India coordinator for the U.N.'s HIV-prevention agency, UNAIDS, said that in the worst-case scenario, the virus could spread to infect 3 percent of India's billion-plus population in the next 5 to 10 years, up from 0.9 percent now.

India already has more HIV-positive people than any other country, UNAIDS says.

The AIDS-causing virus is presently thought to be largely confined within a sexual triangle of poor, male migrant workers, the prostitutes they visit, and their wives back home.

India: HIV and AIDS statistics

HIV is 'out of control' in India


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