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HIV/AIDS: A Serious Threat to India
At a home for vulnerable women and children in the city of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, 23-year-old Nagmani clutches her five-year-old daughter in her lap. Neither smiles. The doctors say both of them are traumatized. In January Nagmani's husband died of AIDS. "After my husband died my parents in-law threw me out of their house," she says. "My brother's wife didn't want me in my family's house either. I had no place to go, that's why my daughter and I came here." Test results show Nagmani too is HIV-positive, but that's too much for her to cope with. She refuses to accept she is infected. [BBC News, September 21, 2005]
Today, an estimated 5.1 million Indians are infected with HIV/AIDS, making India second in the world to South Africa in number of HIV cases. India accounts for 10% of the global HIV burden and 65% of the burden in South and South East Asia.
The first AIDS case in India was detected in 1986, and since then HIV has been reported in all States and Union Territories. Those most affected include Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur and Nagaland and are closely followed by Gujarat, Goa, Pondicherry and West Bengal.
The epidemic, which began among high-risk groups and urban populations, is now spreading rapidly amongst the general population and into the rural areas. It is primarily affecting the most productive age group of society, those 15-44 years of age.
The epidemic is also shifting towards women and young people and making children especially vulnerable. Close to half of those infected are below 29 years and one in every three cases is a woman, many of whom are monogamous housewives. More than 50,000 children are infected with the virus and already 1.2 million children are orphaned due to AIDS.
India’s distinct social and cultural environment furthers spread of the virus. Sexual activity accounts for 85% of spread, but India is silent about sex. Denial and cultural myths on sex and sexuality especially amongst sexual minorities make the problem invisible. And those infected are shamed and ostracized by society, but the legal environment is not sensitive enough to protect the human rights of vulnerable and affected populations.
The virus affects all dimensions of a person’s life – physical, psychological, social and spiritual. Antiretroviral drugs and care and support however can counter some of the negative impact and allow those infected to lead healthy quality lives. But these medications and services are unavailable for the vast majority of those infected in India.
Tuberculosis is now the leading infectious killer in India and HIV/AIDS contributes to increased TB cases. However, if those currently infected do not receive immediate antiretroviral treatment, HIV/AIDS will supersede tuberculosis in two years as the number one killer in India.
HIV/AIDS in India deserves priority.
Contributing to the response against HIV/AIDS in India therefore means contributing to the health and development of a nation.