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AIDS bomb ticks, are you listening?

Over 5.7 million Indians live with HIV/AIDS today, but only 125,000 of them know they are infected with the virus. Sanchita Sharma reports.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 15:03 IST

There are 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India, says UNAIDS. The correct figure is 5.2 million, says the National AIDS Control Organisation that calculates the estimates for the Union ministry of health. Whatever be the data, the fact remains that even with an incidence of less than 1 per cent, India is home to the highest number of HIV positive people in the world.

Few, only 125,000, know that they have HIV. Fewer get treated for it. Over 48,000 people get free treatment for HIV/AIDS under the government programme through 110 voluntary counselling and testing centres across the country, and another 30,000 get treated in the private sector.

“Still, there is a huge gap between those who need treatment and those who actually get it," says Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS: Life is too short to be sad, says Loon Gangte (brown jacket), who tested positive for HIV in 1997. In between listening to music, playing football and trying to convince his landlord that he is HIV positive, Gangte heads the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+). (Jasjeet Plaha/HT)

The problem: not enough people are getting tested. "The government wants to upscale the programme to include 1 lakh people by 2007, but this will be possible only if more cases are detected," says Ramadoss.

"The fact that people are embarrassed to talk about sex makes it difficult for government interventions to be effective. We distributed 1.6 billion condoms through social marketing schemes and installed 100,000 condom-vending machines but we cannot force people to use them," says Ramadoss.

The health ministry has also been unsuccessful in stopping discrimination against people with HIV. "It happens in schools, colleges, hospitals and the workplace. We plan to introduce a bill to end this discrimination in the Budget session of Parliament next year," says the health minister.

Even industry realizes the importance of prevention and treatment strategies for workers. "The trucking industry is already not getting drivers because of the stigma and risk involved. Other companies will soon recognize the enormity of the problem" said Jamshyd N Godrej, chairman and managing director, Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co, at the India Economic Summit, where AIDS was identified as one of the big impediments to India's economic growth.

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First Published: Dec 01, 2006 02:03 IST