India's fight against acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is being jeopardized by a cut in social spending by the government.
According to the World Health Organization, with about 2.1 million people infected with HIV in 2013, India has the most cases in the Asia-Pacific. However new infections have fallen more than 20% over the past 14 years.
AdvertisementExperts opine that, despite the progress, India accounted for most of the estimated 340,000 new infections in the Asia-Pacific last year.
The government initiative to prevent AIDS had been in trouble for more than a year, with bureaucratic delays and a funding crunch resulting in shortages of drugs.
In last February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cut down the 2015-16 central AIDS budget by 22%, asking states to fill the gap.
Making things worse, states have also fallen behind in disbursing the smaller amounts they have received.
As hundreds of workers unpaid for months, the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) is warning of damage to programs.
"There is not only loss of morale, but also attrition. Loss of trained staff would be a serious blow for due functioning of the program... There is real need to maintain focus, coverage and intensity," Navreet Singh Kang, the top official at NACO, wrote in a letter obtained by Reuters that he sent to all states on May 13.
The government letters seen by Reuters showed that three AIDS prevention units in states with high rates of HIV have ordered that up to 25% of prevention workers be laid off and have curtailed projects and services.
The layoffs began in two states on July 1.
"We are not throwing away the program, but we are resizing it as per availability of funds," one NACO official said.
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