India's HIV-infection rate lower than earlier believed

The Baltimore Sun

NEW DELHI -- India has about half as many people infected with the AIDS virus as previously believed, India's government confirmed yesterday.

New estimations of the country's infection rate, based on a nationwide house-to-house survey with blood sampling as well as on prenatal blood tests of pregnant women, suggests the country has about 2.47 million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS, a sharp drop from the previous estimate of 5.7 million, said Anbumani Ramadoss, the national minister of health and family welfare.

That reduced estimate, which mirrors similar revisions of estimates of AIDS' prevalence in a variety of African countries, drops India from first in the world in HIV infections to third place, behind South Africa and Nigeria.

Indian officials called the revised estimates good news for the country, which appears to have about 0.36 percent of people 15 to 49 infected with HIV rather than the previously thought 0.9 percent. The reduced estimate indicates that India's epidemic is still focused mainly in high-risk groups - prostitutes and their clients, intravenous drug users and gay men - rather than in the general population, as in South Africa, where the infection rate among people 15 to 49 years old is 16 percent.

Health officials said yesterday that India's infection rate also appears to be dropping slightly overall, suggesting that increasingly intensive efforts to stop the spread of the disease are working.

But health officials warned that continuing education and prevention efforts are important to ensure that India's AIDS problem remains at a manageable level. With a population of 1.1 billion people, the country could still be suffering perhaps 300,000 new infections with the AIDS virus each year, said Prabhat Jha, a researcher with the Center for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto.

Laurie Goering writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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