India may have a million less AIDS patients than has been widely believed, according to a new but still unreleased survey whose findings were reported here.
The survey that was financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out under international supervision shows that India probably no longer has the largest number of AIDS patients in the world, the New York Times said Friday.
An official United Nations 2006 estimated that India has 5.7 million AIDS patients. However, an early analysis of the new survey by American epidemiologists who know the data and the Indian health ministry suggests that India has between two and three million victims.
Surveys conducted in various countries across the world like the National Family Health Survey, which produced India's new figures, have forced Unaids to scale down its global AIDS estimates.
The New York Times said that India's survey was finished last year, but Avahan, the AIDS group financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, refused to discuss the figures before their formal release, which has not been scheduled.
"This is a replay of what happened in Kenya," said Daniel Halperin, an expert on AIDS infection rates at the Harvard School of Public Health. He said that when Kenya was surveyed in 2004 its prevalence rate was halved to 6.7 percent from the 15 percent that Unaids had estimated in 2001.
The latest reduced figure for AIDS cases in India indicates that the virus circulates mostly within high-risk groups of prostitutes and their clients- especially truck drivers, homosexuals and people who inject drugs.
Although Richard Feacham, until recently the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, and other prominent figures have accused India of denying the scope of its AIDS problem, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the government is spending $2 billion to fight the disease.
"India is glaringly not in a denial phase," Ramadoss said, adding that he was grateful for the pressure from critics because it had forced the country to move faster. "We need to work with the Global Fund, not contradict each other."