| Is India sitting on AIDS time
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
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
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
“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.
WHO DO WE BELIEVE?
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