AIDS surveillance poor in some states: Ramadoss
Officially, there are 5.1 million people with HIV/AIDS in India, second only to South Africa.india Updated: Dec 01, 2005 11:52 IST
Health minister expressed concern about AIDS awareness, monitoring and treatment, saying the latest official count in India could have fallen short of the real number of infections.
Officially, there are 5.1 million people with HIV/AIDS in India -- second only to South Africa -- but voluntary groups and the UN body UNAIDS say the real figure is far higher.
"I am sure there will be people missed out in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and the northeast," Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said, referring to some of the most populous, largest or remote states.
UNAIDS chief Peter Piot told Reuters this month that the Health Ministry's count which showed new infections fell to 28,000 in 2004 from 520,000 in 2003 was impossible.
Ramadoss defended the figures, saying the World Health Organisation had verified them but conceded surveillance was poor in some states, including the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh with 170 million-plus people -- more than the population of Russia.
"The problem we have in some of the states is that the surveillance is not there at the public or government level," Ramadoss told a news conference, on the eve of World AIDS day.
"I am definitely concerned."
Ramadoss said he hoped a new count in 2006 would give a more accurate picture.
India missed its target of treating 100,000 HIV-positive people with anti-retroviral drugs by mid-2004. Only 15,000 people were receiving government-funded treatment.
"We are trying our best ... we expect in the next six months to reach our target of 100,000," Ramadoss said.
He said Andhra Pradesh had seen a rise in cases over the past few years resulting in a 2.25 percent HIV adult infection rate against a national average of 0.92.
"They were a little lax in awareness propagation," he said.
Officials in India said the epidemic had entrenched itself in the countryside where public health care facilities were poor.
"What is really worrying us is that the epidemic is really getting into the rural areas," Sujata Rao, chief of the state-run National AIDS Control Organisation, told the news conference.
Almost 59 percent of people with HIV/AIDS live in the countryside with many village men who seek work in the cities visiting sex workers and infecting their wives.
"Until now, we thought HIV/AIDS was an urban phenomena," she said.
Vinod Pawar, a college student who along with 29 other volunteers has walked thousands of kilometres across India since December 1 last year promoting AIDS awareness, said some people in rural areas of the billion-plus population nation did not know about the disease.
"People asked us: 'What is AIDS? They did not know what a condom is," Pawar said. "I was shocked."