India's "AIDS time bomb" is not ticking as fast as you were made to believe. Good news for the country, bad news for UN experts who over the past decade had labelled India as the theatre of the coming HIV-AIDS holocaust.
After consistently deriding India for under-reporting AIDS data, UNAIDS has conceded the situation is not half as bad as what it had been predicting. New government data — gathered with the help of UNAIDS — showed there were 2.47 million people with HIV/AIDS in India in 2006, less than half the previous year’s estimates, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss announced on Friday. The HIV prevalence rate was 0.36 per cent, he said, down from 0.9 per cent in 2005.
Experts from UNAIDS and WHO told Hindustan Times the estimate was reliable. "This estimate 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 household survey information from the National Family Health Survey-III," said Dr Peter D Ghys, UNAIDS’s Geneva-based manager of epidemic and impact monitoring.
UN agencies had earlier painted a grim picture. In 1997, UNDP’s Common Country Assessment report said there were up to 5 million infected people in mid-1996. A 2002 UNAIDS report showed over 3 lakh AIDS deaths in India in 1999, when actually 11,000 deaths were recorded. In 2002, the US Intelligence Community Assessment predicted 20-25 million HIV-positive people in India by 2010.
"Everyone always found fault with our data and accused India of underestimating the epidemic," Ramadoss said at the launch of the third phase of the five-year Rs 11,585-crore National AIDS Control Programme. Ashok Alexander, director of Avahan — Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s HIV project in India — said although the decrease in prevalence was good news, there were still a large number of people affected. "India cannot afford to decrease the pressure," he said.