The AIDS epidemic is spreading fast in the sprawling central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh where on an average more than one patient of the disease is found every day.
While the Madhya Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (MPSACS) identified 359 AIDS patients in 2005 and 350 in 2006, 369 cases were found in just the first eight months this year. This is apart from the approximately 11,000 HIV-positive people in the state, according to an MPSACS estimate.
In August alone, the number of patients in the state found to be infected with the disease was 45 while 38 cases were detected in July.
Madhya Pradesh had only one identified AIDS patient in 1988. By August this year, the figure had gone up to 2,381.
Figures compiled by MPSACS show that 91.7 percent of the patients in Madhya Pradesh acquire the virus through sexual transmission, two percent through blood transfusion, 1.8 percent through prenatal transmission, two percent through infected injections and 2.5 percent due to unknown reasons.
District-wise, the state's commercial capital Indore takes the lead with 564 AIDS cases since the authorities started compiling records, while the temple town Ujjain is next with 351 patients. Then come Jabalpur with 116 cases, Gwalior with 115, Dewas with 109 and Burhanpur with 81.
A doctor from a private nursing home told IANS: "What is more worrying is that AIDS is no longer confined to urban areas. I have patients from villages, even remote hamlets, where the disease has spread due to lack of awareness."
The doctor said she had come across AIDS patients from small towns like Khandwa, Khargone, Badwani and Shajapur.
Prashant Malaiya, MPSACS deputy director, said: "This is just the tip of an iceberg. Several cases, mainly from rural areas, go unreported in the state."
NGOs working in Indore, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Rewa, Bhopal, Gwalior, Sagar, Hoshangabad and Morena claim the number of AIDS patients in these districts is far higher than the official figures.
Separate surveys across the state conducted by NGOs found a high prevalence of the disease among rag-pickers, children working in roadside eateries (dhabas) between the ages of five and 18, and truck drivers.
A film called "AIDS - Red Alert" by Rachana Johari on the disease in urban areas showed that though 60 percent of youngsters surveyed were sexually active, they were unaware or not ready to listen to anything about prevention of HIV/AIDS. Her film, though fictionalised, is supported by research.
Various surveys have pointed out that people between the age of 31 and 40 constitute the largest segment of AIDS patients.
Those in the 21-30 age group are also at high risk. In Madhya Pradesh, 72 percent of AIDS patients are men.
MPSACS is planning to educate all public representatives about the disease.
MPSACS director Saleena Singh told IANS: "We have prepared an action plan as part of which all legislators, members of district Panchayats and Janpad Panchayats will be sensitised to further the cause of AIDS awareness and preventive measures among the masses."
The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) says there were 124,995 AIDS patients in India on Aug 31, 2006. The number of HIV-positive people in the country is estimated to be around 2.5 million.