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HIV count down in south, says report

The Lancet study confirms data collected by the Govt's AIDS control body, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 03:35 IST

In a big boost to the Government’s AIDS control programmes focusing on awareness and condom use, HIV infection rates are down by a third in south India, reports the international medical journal The Lancet.

About 75 per cent of India’s 5.14 million HIV positive people live in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra and Karnataka, and a decline there would bring down the numbers of HIV infections drastically.

The Lancet study confirms data collected by the Government's National AIDS Control Organisation, which has shown HIV spread is plateauing in India over the past two years, more so in the south. NACO sources say this year too, AIDS figures will go up marginally from the 5.13 million in 2005 to 5.2 million.

“HIV prevalence in Tamil Nadu, for example, has plateaued in the past two years and if it continues for a third consecutive year, we can say there is no increase in HIV cases in the state,” says Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss.

“Better healthcare delivery, higher education and awareness have made this possible and now we want to replicate this success in the rest of the country,” he adds. His statement is again corroborated by the Lancet study, which says AIDs prevalence in the north remains poorly studied.

“There have been many predictions, mostly based on guesswork, that India’s AIDS problem will explode, as it did in southern Africa. But we now have direct evidence of something positive,” says the study’s co-author Dr Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto.

“The good news is that HIV in young adults appears to be declining in the south, most likely or perhaps only due to males using sex workers less or using condoms more often when they do,” says Jha.

The study examined alternative explanations but changes in testing or AIDS deaths don't appear to explain the decline, adds lead author Dr Rajesh Kumar from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh.

He cautions that while the findings are good news, the battle is far from over. “HIV remains a huge problem in India and we have to remain vigilant,” he says.