India is all set to roll out a $2.5-billion National AIDS Control Programme in 2007.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who is in Toronto for the 16th International AIDS Conference, says, “Apart from scaling up treatment and prevention, the five-year programme (NACP-III) will focus on getting accurate data on HIV prevalence in UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Orissa.”
The reason: these five states are a potential hotbed of HIV/AIDS infection as they have a high proportion of migrant population that travels to high-risk areas of Mumbai and Chennai. Also, there is a high prevalence of sexually-transmitted infections, generally an indicator of HIV/AIDS.
Ramadoss says, “Watch out for next year's report. We'll have more data.”
The number of sentinel sites from where HIV data are collected is being increased from the current 750 to 1,150 by year-end. Most of these additional sites will be set up in the vulnerable states of northern India.
The National AIDS Control Programme (NACO) also has plans to increase the number of government centres offering free testing, counselling and treatment - from 74 centres now to 100 by August-end. "After the increase, we'll have the capacity to treat 85,000 people with HIV. Now 45,000 people are being treated under the government programme," says NACO director-general Sujatha Rao.
Under NACP-III, the government also plans to provide paediatric doses for 10,000 children with HIV. "The focus of the third phase is on scaling up prevention and treatment with the involvement of the private sector and with better communication management," says Ramadoss. Simply put, NACO says it will not only ensure free drugs to those who need it but will also make sure that people know where and how to get them.
The World Bank has praised India's AIDS-control programme in its book, AIDS in South Asia. David Wilson, one of the authors, says, "In India, HIV is highly concentrated in the vulnerable groups of sex workers, injecting-drug users and men having sex with men. It is low among the general population. So if we protect the vulnerable groups, we can protect the general population."
J.V.R. Prasada Rao, regional director of the UNAIDS support team for Asia and the Pacific, however, cautions that the risk remains very high as some districts in India have a high infection rate of 4-5 per cent.
"India has among the lowest health spending (as percentage of the GDP) even though it is capable of putting in more money. It is time it did that and not depended on external funding," says Prasada Rao.