Take care of the gap
Alongside India?s more dubious achievements ? largest number of illiterates and poor ? is a new record of having the highest number of HIV-infected in the world.india Updated: Jun 01, 2006 01:03 IST
Alongside India’s more dubious achievements — largest number of illiterates and poor — is a new record of having the highest number of HIV-infected in the world. The sad part of this story is the reason why the figures, brought out in a new UN report, contradict official Indian estimates: The government has not taken into account, at all, the HIV-positive child and ageing populations. All Aids data in India is collected for the 15 to 49 years age-group, ignoring the HIV-infected under 14 years and above 49 years of age. The reason cited for this lapse is the ‘nature’ of its spread, mostly through sex. Indian officialdom ignored what it considered the sexually inactive population. So, in a bolt from the blue, we are told that 500,000 children and the ageing in India are HIV positive.
This revelation is alarming on two counts. One, while the UN has adopted worldwide a cradle-to-grave data collection mode, India failed to live up to its commitment to do so. The reasons are best known to those charged with the responsibility of mapping the HIV-infected universe. Two, in ignoring this section, the authorities have neglected the investment of funds to tackle the spread of the virus from mother to child or via blood transfusions. This is evident because the UN report also says that only 1.6 per cent of the pregnant women, at risk of transmitting the virus to the unborn child, are receiving the required anti-viral treatment. That means 98.4 per cent of mothers-at-risk are not in a position to protect their children from being born HIV positive. How the government plans to tweak its healthcare programme and take it beyond the awareness model is not known. Even lesser known is whether there is any inkling on where these children are — presuming that all such children are born only to sex workers would be folly. Similarly, there exists no credible data on bloodbanks’ testing systems and on the measures taken against blood banks/ hospitals where such transfusions have spread the disease.
Data released by the Indian government often enough differ from those published by the UN. The varying reports on malnutrition recently faced government ire. But this figure is not being refuted by the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco), which accepts the different ways of mapping data. The question then is, if Naco officials knew about the discrepancy, shouldn’t they have rung the alarm bells louder? Perhaps they did and no one in the government was listening.