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New HIV infections fall in India, but stigma remains: UNAIDS

india Updated: Nov 21, 2016 17:47 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
HIV cases

India has shown a 66% decline in new infections since 2000, according to a new UNAIDS report released on Monday.(Shutterstock)

New HIV infections are down in India, with the world’s second-most populous country accounting for an estimated 89,000 of the world’s 2.1 million people newly-infected with the virus that causes AIDS in 2015.

India has shown a 66% decline in new infections since 2000, said a new UNAIDS report released on Monday, ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

Globally, there are 36.7 million people worldwide who are living with HIV, which led to 1.1 million AIDS-related deaths in 2015, said a new UNAIDS released on Monday ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

There were an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV at the end of 2015, which is the same number as the year before, largely because fewer people got infected and fewer died because they got free antiretroviral therapy (ART) that keep the virus from growing and multiplying.

ART helps people live longer and also lowers the chances of HIV being transmitted to others. The National AIDS Control Organisation, which tracks the infection across India, rolled out its free ART programme in April 2004, less than a decade after by Dr Suniti Solomon in Chennai first indentified HIV in six of the 100 blood samples she tested in 1986.

There are 847,219 people currently on ART in India, with the scale-up saving around 4.5 lakh lives in India from 2004 to 2014. HIV prevalence in India is 0.26% , down from 0.41% in 2001.

NACO’s budget outlay was raised to Rs 1,700 in 2016-17, from Rs 1,397 crore the year before.

“While India has made significant progress in preventing new infections and extending treatment to those who need it, HIV-related stigma continues to affect the lives of people infected and affected by the virus. All key populations — injecting drug users, men who have sex with men,transgender and sex workers continue to suffer criminalisation under the national laws,” says Prasada Rao, special envoy of UN Secretary General on AIDS.

“There is very little progress on legal reforms to decriminalise them and assure proper access to prevention and treatment programmes in India,” he adds.

Globally, more than one million people started getting treated for HIV and AIDS over the past six months, up from 17 million by the end of 2015. Indian pharmaceutical companies played a huge role in boosting access to treatment by bringing down the price of HIV drugs. In 2001, Cipla introduced the world’s first 3-in-1 fixed dose ART combination (stavudine + lamivudine + nevirapine) at less than $1 per day compared to the then market price of $12,000 per patient per year.

The report warns of the risk of drug resistance and the need to reduce the costs of second- and third-line treatments. “New threats are emerging and if we do not act now we risk resurgence and resistance. We have seen this with TB. We must not make the same mistakes again,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.