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   Home >> Library index >> AIDS >> Is India sitting on AIDS time bomb? 
Is India sitting on AIDS time bomb? 
By Vineeta Pandey/TNN 

New Delhi: Is India on the threshold of an AIDS disaster? The debate triggered last month by Richard Feacham — executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — refuses to die down. 
Indian NGOs and experts have joined issue with the state-run National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which had quickly dismissed Feacham’s warning as “misleading”. 
According to Feacham, India has outstripped South Africa and has more people living with AIDS than any other country. While UNAIDS puts the Indian figure at 5.1 million, Feacham said that, with the speed at which the disease was spreading, the figure in India must by now exceed the South African figure of 5.3 million. 
Feacham suspected that the figure in India might already have crossed 1% of the population and what really set the alarm bells ringing was this observation made by him in a letter to NACO: “We know from a number of other countries that the epidemic can grow 
from a fraction of 1% of the population to 10% or even 20% within a decade.” 
NACO officials claim Feacham later clarified in a letter that his statement had been distorted. His clarification was “almost in an apologetic tone”, one official said. 
Even as NACO director-general S Y Quraishi asserts that 5.1 million is the correct figure, certified by WHO, UNAIDS and Indian Council of Medical Research, some experts put the figure at 8 million. In fact some fear that the figure could be as high as 10 billion. 
Quraishi said that fresh data were being analysed now and the figures this year would surely be higher than last year’s 5.1 million, “but the increase is not 5 lakh a year.” Quraishi claimed that the international bodies certifying the HIV positive cases in India have said that it is in the range of 2.5 million to 7 million. “Even if we take the average of the range, it comes to approximately 5 million,” Quraishi said. 
“That is 0.9%of the total adult population and 0.5% of the total Indian population. South Africa’s 5.3 million cases form 23%of their population, while Botswana has 39% and Swaziland 33% affected,” he added. 

While the controversy over the number of HIV positive cases continues, experts say the sources of data are themselves suspect 
• NACO figures based on reports of 700 voluntary counselling and testing centres and govt labs. NACO does not acknowledge numbers reported by hundreds of NGO labs, unlicensed blood banks 
• On the other hand, one person may get tested at four private labs – each test will register as a separate case in non-NACO records 
• States may not give correct data to NACO 
• NACO may be claiming lower figures to prove success, prevent panic, which could affect business, tourism