In Transit – India has time to reverse its HIV epidemic: expert

INDIA SHOULD use its legendary IT skills to drive its health sector programmes, including HIV/AIDS information and treatment. "The world learned from India when its pharma companies saved over 3.5 million people from sure death by providing affordable AIDS medicine. India should similarly use its IT skills for its own health sector and ensure everyone everywhere has access to information and healthcare facilities," said Jeffery O’Malley, director, HIV/AIDS group, Bureau of Development Policy, UNDP, in an exclusive to Hindustan Times.

India still has time to reverse its HIV epidemic, with states already showing results. IV prevalence in the general population in Maharashtra dropped from 0.80 per cent to 0.74 per cent in 200506, and in Tamil Nadu, from 0.47 per cent to 0.39 per cent. "Unlike in Africa, HIV infection in India is driven by a small identifiable proportion of the popula- tion-female sex workers, migrants, injecting drug users and MSMs-and working with them is very effective," said O’Malley.

India has 2.5 million people living with HIV, with infection being a high 5.69 per cent among Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and 5.38 percent Female Sex Workers (FSWs). Most government programmes target female sex workers and their clients through condom promotion and information campaigns.

Issues related to gay rights have been a real disaster in India, as in the rest of the world, said O’Malley.

"Governments the world over find it easier to talk about female sex workers than men who have sex with men. Even when the Gates Foundation started HIV interventions in India, the focused on female sex workers and injecting drug users. To their credit, they now work with men who have sex with men (MSMs), though it’s mostly with commercial MSMs. While infection is reversing in sex workers in states like Tamil Nadeu and Andhra, it is increasing among MSMs across the country," he said.

With California voting to ban same-sex marriages through a referendum that circumvents its own Supreme Court ruling in May that legalised same-sex marriages, discriminating laws exist against MSMs are many countries. "The HIV epidemic among MSMS will go underground unless legal and social issues related MSM are not addressed," he said.

AIDS in India

People with HIV and AIDS: 2.5 Million

Men: 61%
Women: 39%
15-49 years: 88.7% of all infections
Under 15 years: 3.8% of all infections
Adult prevalence: 0.36%
Men who have sex with men: 5.69%
Infecting drug users: 8.71%
Female sex workers: 5.38%

Source: National AIDS Control Organisation

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