The UNAIDS Report 2013 has confirmed what India announced in 2011: the HIV epidemic is reversing in India. New infections from HIV went down 57% among adults in over the past decade, showed data from HIV Sentinel Surveillance, 2010-11, which tracks HIV infection across the nation.
Globally, new HIV infections declined by 25% in the same period. More than the absolute numbers of people with HIV — there are 2.39 million people living with HIV and AIDS in India, with 0.27% of the adult population being infected — reducing new infection is a better indicator of a nation’s robust AIDS-control programme. And India’s National AIDS Control Programme, with its annual budget of Rs. 1,785-crore, seems to have got it right.
UNAIDS credits the halving of infections in India to both improved data collection methods and a fall in new infections because the country offers free anti-retroviral therapy (ART), which reduces the HIV virus load in the body and lowers the risk of infecting partners by 96%.
With 7.4 million with HIV on treatment worldwide, new HIV infections have fallen in 33 countries since 2001, mostly in Africa and Asia. In March 2012, the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies presented data showing that in areas where ART uptake is high (greater than 30%) people who do not have HIV are 38% less likely to get infected with the virus as compared to areas with low uptake (less than 10%).
Providing free treatment works, but the legal environment around people most at risk — homosexuals, injecting drug users and sex workers — has to be strengthened to encourage them to seek HIV-prevention and treatment services that cut down infections dramatically.
Even though HIV data is under 2.5 million for over six years, India cannot risk becoming complacent. In lowering infection, India, along with Myanmar (72%), Nepal (87%) and Thailand (63%) are among the high achievers in Asia.
It should work harder to stay there, and not fall into the ‘emerging epidemic’ club, where new HIV infections have increased, as it has risen eight-fold in Pakistan, 2.6 times in Indonesia; and more than doubled in the Philippines.