India plans to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to combat HIV to around 100,000 people by early next year, a top health official said, as this nation struggles with the largest number of AIDS infections in the world.
With 5.7 million people already infected, India is stepping up its campaign against the disease, Sujata Rao, the top official in India's AIDS control program, told reporters.
Health authorities are accelerating a campaign to promote safe sex, popularise the use of condoms and expand the network of treatment facilities to reach out to people in six high-prevalence states across the country, she said.
"We are also creating awareness among people in schools, colleges and through the media on what causes HIV. Once people know that AIDS is treatable, although not curable, it will reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease," Rao said.
Free anti-retroviral drugs are a major part of the plan. "By August, we will be able to reach anti-retroviral therapy drugs to around 85,000 people infected with the virus," Rao told journalists.
"But by early 2007, we will have drugs made available to 100,000 people with HIV."
India's has allotted an annual budget of rupees 9 billion (US$200 million, euro166 million) for the financial year 2006-2007 for its HIV/AIDS prevention programme, according to Health Ministry figures.
Last month, UNAIDS issued a report saying India has world's largest number of people living with HIV. With an estimated 5.7 million infections, the country has surpassed South Africa's 5.5 million.