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HIV infections: India flayed for scant action

Several hundred activists staged rallies before Indian mission and UN HQ in New York, reports S Rajagopalan. Your view?

india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 18:46 IST

A day after the grim projection that India now heads the world AIDS table, several hundred activists staged rallies in front of the Indian mission and the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday to protest the “lack of effective action” to contain the spread of AIDS.

The demonstration coincided with the launch of the UN General Assembly special session to review the global progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The spotlight turned on India with a UN report stating a day earlier that India has overtaken South Africa as the country with the highest number of people living with the HIV virus in the world — an estimated  5.7 million cases.

Although the projection has been hotly contested by India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Indian activists of the US-based ‘Stop HIV/AIDS in India Initiative’ (SHAII) kept up the offensive against the Indian Government on the streets of New York.

“In 2001, the Government committed to reducing HIV prevalence by 2005. Instead, there has been a 32 per cent increase in AIDS cases and an additional 1.3 million people infected with HIV. Lack of effective action by the Government is costing lives every day,” SHAII director Vineeta Gupta said.

With activists from other nations in their midst, the group accused the Indian authorities of “failing to disburse a $37 million grant from the Global Fund to scale up treatment programmes that could potentially have saved more than 45,000 lives.”

Less than four per cent of HIV-positive mothers in India are receiving testing and counselling services, and less than three per cent are receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis to prevent HIV transmission to their infants, the group claimed. Only 1,048 of some 70,000 children in dire need of antiretroviral treatment are getting it.

Priya Ranjan of the Maryland-based Association for India’s Development (AID) asserted. The Indian organisations also voiced concern that the country’s large generic pharmaceutical industry, which can provide affordable HIV/AIDS medicines to the poor in India and afflicted African countries, is under threat from powerful multinational pharmaceutical firms.