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  • An estimated 610,000 Indians contracted the HIV virus in 2002, according to the findings of a joint study conducted by the Population Foundation of India (PFI) and the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

    States with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS are Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the release stated.

    The study, released on November 13, found that the number of HIV-positive people in the country rose from 3.97 million in 2001 to 4.58 million by the end of 2002, making India the country with the second largest number of HIV-positive people, after South Africa.

    Based on data from UNAIDS, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and the National Family Health Survey, the US$ 75,000 study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It began in June 2003.

    These findings reinforce the experts’ view that creating awareness about HIV/AIDS should be given priority in India. “HIV/AIDS is now spreading to the general populace of India, and if knowledge of the disease, preventive measures and counselling are not made universal then India could see an epidemic similar to that of some African countries,” says a PRB release.

    The study notes that HIV/AIDS in India is spreading to the general population mainly through unprotected sex between married men and prostitutes. It found that in four of the six hardest-hit states, it was businessmen, men in the service sector and hotel employees who contracted the virus. The study found that more than 85% of HIV cases were associated with unprotected sex.

    The biggest challenge is reaching out to the 640,000-odd villages in India, where most of the country’s population lives and where AIDS awareness remains unsatisfactorily low.

    “In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat, three out of four women had never heard of HIV/AIDS. Only 72% of people in rural areas had heard of HIV/AIDS, compared to 90% in urban areas,” says Dr A R Nanda, executive director, Population Foundation of India.

    With respect to prevention, three out of 10 men were not aware of the condom’s protective value. The corresponding figure for women was an alarming five out of 10. Also, less than 50% of women in rural areas were aware of the danger of an HIV-infected mother breast-feeding her child. Less than 30% of women in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat knew that HIV/AIDS could be passed on through blood transfusions, says the release.

    “In Kerala (not a high-prevalence state), more than two out of 100 STD patients (patients with sexually-transmitted diseases) tested positive for HIV. In a high-prevalence state like Andhra Pradesh, it was three in 10,” the study notes.

    Over one per cent of pregnant women test positive for HIV at testing sites. Women account for 26% of the total number of reported cases. This figure is likely to increase, says the study. The study also observes that up to 50% of sex workers at sentinel surveillance sites test HIV-positive.

    “The disease continued to grow silently because enough effort was not made to undo the stigma and discrimination in the early epidemic stages,” explains Carl Haub, senior demographer at the PRB. Although India has shown positive signs in tackling AIDS, poor record-keeping by local health officials makes it difficult to determine the precise number of people affected, Haub says.

    Source: http://www.infochangeindia.org


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