The cost of antiretroviral therapy (ART) used to treat HIV is the cheapest in India, with first-line treatment costing the government Rs 5,000/person/year, and second-line therapy - for people with immunity against the first-line drugs - priced at Rs 29,000/person/year.
About 26,000 people are on second-line treatment. "Currently, 4.48 lakh people get free ART under the national programme in 324 centres across India.
Everyone who needs treatment is being treated free under the government programme, there is no waiting," said Dr BB Rewari, national programme officer, the National AIDS Control Organisation, India (NACO).
Estimates for people living with HIV were halved in India, from a peak of 5.7 million in 2006 to the current 2.39 million at the end of 2009, the latest year for which data is available.
The UN credits the downward trend to both improved data collection methods and an actual fall in new infections.
"With HIV data staying under 2.5 million for over 5 years in India, complacency should not set in, as it did in North America, where infection has shot up among vulnerable groups, such as injecting drug users and men who have sex with men," says Dr Charles Gilks, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for India.
Investments in ART programmes benefits economic activity and labour-force productivity, with gains expected to reach up to $34 billion and 18.5 million life years in low- and middle-income countries by 2020, said the UNAIDS Report on Global HIV/AIDS Response 2011, which was released on Wednesday. This more than offsets the costs of free ART programmes.
Following the global financial crisis, international funding for HIV programmes fell in 2010. Current annual funding is estimated to be $16 billion, well below the $22-24 billion needed annually by 2015.