There is an alarming increase in the HIV/AIDS cases in India's West Bengal State with 0.5% of its population belonging to the age group of 15 years and 49 years carrying the virus, according to sources from the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSACS). This figure is considered to be extremely high.
The 2001 census figure put the total population of West Bengal at 80 million.
West Bengal had 2,397 reported cases of full blown AIDS as of July 2005, according to official estimates of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), of which WBSACS is a unit. A total of 6,941 people are HIV positive in West Bengal.
India has an HIV/AIDS population of 5.1 million, second only to South Africa with 5.3 million infected people, according to international health organizations.
'The infections are high among almost all major risk groups, especially the flying sex workers followed by injecting drug users. The MSM (Men having sex with Men) community is also showing a rising trend,' said Kumar.
'Flying sex workers are more infected than the more organized brothel-based ones as they don't always take the precautions and are often operate under compulsions,' said Suresh Kumar, the Project Director of WBSACS.
'"We have scaled up our programme among the flying sex workers and the truckers in the city and districts,' said Kumar.
'We spend about Rs.430 million a year on prevention and awareness campaigns supplemented with manpower help from the State Government, which is about Rs.80 million, but we need much more to fight the menace,' said Kumar.
Six states in India are already designated 'red' or high prevalence states - with an HIV prevalence of over one percent of the total population.
And though the levels of prevalence appear to have stabilized in the worst affected states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra (Manipur and Nagaland are the other states), it is still increasing among the high risk population groups in several other states where HIV is less prevalent.
The alarming rise of the fatal disease in West Bengal comes as a shock since it was considered a low prevalence state. WBSACS is one of the frontrunners in the awareness campaign, especially with its creation of an animated character called Bula-di who emerged as an icon in the fight against the virus.
Bula-di (di meaning didi or elder sister) is the woman next door with the message of safe sex.
Bula-di is the animated middle class housewife icon of HIV/AIDS awareness in West Bengal and has become a familiar figure since World AIDS Day on 1 December 2004 when she appeared on billboards, TV spots and radio jingles.
'It is a successful campaign but it has to be reinforced with inter personal communication,' said Kumar.