Asian Countries Might Not Witness HIV/AIDS Epidemic - WHO

by Gopalan on  June 10, 2008 at 11:03 AM AIDS/HIV News
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Asian Countries Might Not Witness HIV/AIDS Epidemic - WHO
The WHO has admitted it might have exaggerated HIV threats and says any outbreak outside Africa is unlikely.

After its last update in November, it was stated, "During 2007, some 2.5 million people became infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

The year also saw 2.1 million deaths from AIDS - a high global total, despite antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, which reduced AIDS-related deaths among those who received it. The number of deaths probably peaked around 2005, and has since declined only slightly."

The overwhelming majority of people with HIV, some 95% of the global total, live in the developing world. The proportion is set to grow even further as infection rates continue to rise in countries where poverty, poor health care systems and limited resources for prevention and care fuel the spread of the virus, said Avert, the leading UK-based AIDS charity.

But projections for India were revised downwards. The Until recently it was thought that India was home to around 5.7 million people living with HIV - more than any other country in the world. In July 2007 this estimate was revised to between 2 million and 3.1 million, based on better data including the results of a national household survey.

Because of the major revision of the Indian estimate, the number of people living with HIV in the whole of Asia is now thought to be substantially less than the figure published by UNAIDS in late 2006. The current estimate is around 4.8 million.

UNAIDS chief Dr Dennis Broun told Times of India, "We made a mistake with our predictions. However, the gloomy predictions were made seeing evidence that was available to us 10 years ago, which was minimal. Today, with all the accumulated information, it is unlikely that Asian countries will see a generalised epidemic."

Dr Kevin de Cock, head of the WHO's HIV/AIDS department, said there was a shift in the understanding of the risks posed by the virus.

While a decade ago, HIV was regarded as a risk to populations everywhere, irrespective of the percentages that practised unsafe sex, experts were now of the view that outside of sub-Saharan Africa, it was largely confined to high-risk groups, injecting drug users, sex workers and their clients.

Dr de Cock said, "If the virus had to cause an epidemic among the general population in India and China, as originally feared, why hasn't it happened till now? It doesn't look likely anymore."

Dr de Cock said prevention strategies need to be focussed where HIV transmission was occurring. "India needs to look at who are getting infected more often and then target that section of society," he said. He called for massive investments in educating those at risk rather than focussing on a school AIDS programme.

Critics of the global AIDS strategy have always cried foul of the vast sums being spent on educating people not at risk from the disease, when a far bigger impact could be achieved by targeting the more vulnerable groups.

Dr de Cock admitted there were "elements of truth" to such criticism. There has been a view that UNAIDS had deliberately exaggerated the size and trend of the projected pandemic, besides hyping the potential for HIV in general populations, creating an impression that just about everyone was at risk of contracting AIDS.

"This led to billions of dollars being spent on AIDS rather than on other serious illnesses, which face an acute fund crunch," a health ministry official in India said.

Avert has also that warned since some Asian countries were very large, national averages might obscure serious epidemics in some smaller provinces and states. "Although national adult HIV prevalence in India, for example, is below 1%, some states have an estimated prevalence well above this level," it said.  

India's worries are concentrated in six states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka and Nagaland.

Source: Medindia

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