India HIV cases overestimated6th July 2007
Around half the number of Indians previously believed to be living with HIV/AIDS now appear not to be, according to new estimates by the United Nations.
The new figure, calculated with the help of the United Nations AIDS agency, show the number of people living with the virus at 2.47 million, less than half of previous official estimates.
The new estimate puts India below South Africa and Nigeria in terms of caseload.
However, India's health minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the number was still very large.
"We have about 2.47 million estimated cases which is huge in terms of numbers," he told a news conference. "In terms of human lives affected, the number is still large, in fact very large. This is very worrying for us."
Prevalence levels among India's 1.1 billion population were now estimated at around 0.36%, compared with the previous estimate of 0.9%.
The new figures were announced as the country rolled out a new US$2.8-billion AIDS programme, which aims to expand access to free treatment for those living with HIV, and target the population with prevention campaigns.
Previously, the United Nations had arrived at the 5.7 million figure by using hundreds of surveillance centers to test the blood of pregnant women and high-risk groups such as injecting drug users and prostitutes over four months each year.
But a new population-based survey that took the blood samples of 102,000 people to test for HIV among the general public - rather than specific groups - indicated for the first time India's HIV caseload was highly overestimated.
According to UNAIDS, population surveys that do not depend on someone going to a specific government clinic are more representative, and are more likely to pick up accurate information relating to rural areas, and to men.
The fact that government surveillance centers are mainly visited by poorer people and high risk groups gave a distorted picture of the national prevalence of HIV infection.
Both the population survey and surveillance data were used to arrive at the new estimate, with the expanded survey being used to obtain more precision on top of the existing clinic data.
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