The year 2007 has been a good year for India, with new data backed by UNAIDS halving India’s HIV-infected population from 5.2 million last year to 2.5 million. The sharp drop in the India’s numbers led the United Nations to slash its global estimates from nearly 40 million to 33 million in its 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update.
The report gives two reasons for the downward revisions –better data and an actual decrease in the number of new HIV infections. The likely number of new infections peaked in the 1990s at 3 million but fell to 2.5 million for 2007. People with HIV are also living longer, with a person living up to 11 years after getting infected without being treated, up from the earlier 9 years.
The revised numbers, say UN experts, are a combination of natural trends in the epidemic and HIV prevention efforts. “Of the total difference in the estimates published in 2006 and 2007, 70 per cent are due to changes in six countries: Angola, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe,” the report says. Africa remains the hardest hit by AIDS, with 22.5 million people infected with HIV.
“The estimates for India is more reliable than before because the data base has been expanded to include 1,122 sentinel surveillance sites – up from 702 in 2005 – and the National Family Health Survey-III surveys,” says NACO’s director general Sujatha Rao. The prevalence in the adult Indian population also dropped from 0.9 at the end of 2005 to 0.36 at the end of 2006.
While the AIDS epidemic showed an overall decline, prevalence in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur and Nagaland remained above 1 per cent. Mizoram had a prevalence of 1 per cent, while it dropped to less than 1 per cent in Tamil Nadu and Maharasthra for the first time ever. Prevalence is 6 per cent in Dharwad in Karnataka, which is the highest in the country.
Currently there are an estimated 3.6 million people living with HIV in the South-East Asia Region; unsafe sex and injecting drug use are the two main drivers of the epidemic. India, with its large population, has 2.5 million infected with the AIDS virus, while Bhutan, Maldives and Timor-Leste have fewer than 500 each.
Experts, however, say it is too early to hang up one’s gloves. “These improved data present us with a clearer picture of the AIDS epidemic, one that reveals both challenges and opportunities. But with more than 6,800 new infections, and over 5,700 deaths each day due to AIDS, we must expand our efforts in order to significantly reduce the impact of AIDS worldwide,” says UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot.