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December 1 is World AIDS Day. The theme is Getting to Zero: Zero Discrimination, Zero New Infections and Zero AIDS-related deaths.
Sharon Stone of Basic Instinct fame noted on her recent visit to India that as a nation we were extremely aware about HIV/AIDS. But then India has for long played a vital role in the global battle against HIV. It's impossible to estimate how many lives would've been lost if the Yusuf Hamied-led Cipla hadn't provided inexpensive cocktail drugs to Africa while Big Pharma sat around waiting for the moolah. Even India's own model to battle HIV/AIDS has been lauded around the globe by luminaries like UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UNAIDS director Michel Sidible.
The fact is that for a nation of India's size with its unique set of healthcare issues and complete refusal to talk about sex, we've done well in our battle against HIV/AIDS. Here are five things you ought to know about HIV/AIDS in India:
2.4 million people are HIV positive in India
India has 2.4 million HIV positive people. It's estimated that out of these 61% are male, 39% are female and 3.5% are children. As of 2009, the adult prevalence is believed to be 0.31%. Despite, the huge number the prevalence of HIV is low when compared to our today population. On the other hand, HIV epidemic regions like South Africa have over 5 million cases with a prevalence of 18% in adults.
Source: AIDS Alliance
India has reduced new HIV infections by 57% since 2001
The recently released UNAIDS Report 2013 claims that India has managed to reduce new HIV infections by a staggering 57% since 2001. To put this in perspective, in the same time frame, our neighbours Pakistan have seen an eight-fold increase in the number of cases. A major reason for this a concerted effort by the Central government to tackle the ailment head on through information dissemination, education and communication. Also there has never been a case of AIDS denialism in India like there was in other epidemic countries which prevented the disease from spreading far and wide.
Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of hiv/aids.
Drug addicts, men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers are the high risk groups
In India, HIV is mainly concentrated among high risk groups who are 15-30 times more likely to contract HIV than non-high risk groups. The main high risk groups are intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and female sex workers. Getting treatment for high risk groups is even harder because of the stigma attached to each of the aforementioned activities. If we're to contain the spread of HIV, then we must figure out a way to help people from these groups find proper rehabilitation and drugs.
Not enough ART anti-retroviral therapy: Less than 10% people getting drugs
The reason HIV has become a more manageable disease instead of a death knell is because of something called anti-retroviral therapy in which a cocktail of drugs are given to HIV positive people which helps them manage their condition and prevents HIV from becoming AIDS. In fact, a study in India showed that early treatment not only prevents HIV from becoming AIDS but also lowers the chance of transmitting the virus. This has been observed in HIV discordant couples (one positive, one negative) and also mother-to-child transmission. Sadly, not enough people are getting treatment. India remains one of the countries where less than 10% HIV positive people receive ART and there are frequent cases of drug shortage.
Still need to fight the stigma
The biggest challenge in India after the lack of drugs is the stigma attached to the ailment. When HIV was rife in the US, most people thought it was a disease that afflicted people who had it coming the homosexuals, the drug users and the sex workers. While this view has changed over time, the stigma issue remains a problem in many parts of the world including India. We keep on coming across news items which talk about HIV positive families being ostracised, or an HIV positive people losing their jobs. It's been often said that stigma of the ailment makes it much harder to deal with than the ailment itself. We need strict laws to curb anti-HIV discrimination and need to provide sensitisation to people to deal with people who suffer from the condition. (Read: If you know someone who has AIDS, support them)
For more on HIV/AIDS check out our AIDS section.
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