The prevalence is 18 per cent in South India, says UNAIDS report

India houses half of Asia's HIV patients and is way ahead of China in disease burden. It also finds a place in the list of 22 countries prioritised for preventing mother to child transmission infection, according to the latest UNAIDS report, drafted jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

About 48 lakh people were living with HIV in Asia in 2010 and nearly half of them – 49 per cent to be precise – are in India, says the report released on the eve of World AIDS Day. The percentage of pregnant women who tested positive for HIV infection in India also rose from 2 per cent in 2005 t0 23 per cent in 2010.

Seven Asian countries report an estimated 100,000 or more people living with HIV in 2009, collectively accounting for more than 90 per cent of people with HIV in the region. India tops the list followed by China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, though the highest prevalence rate, one per cent, was observed only in Thailand. In Asia, the rate of HIV transmission appears to be slowing down. The estimated 360,000 people who were newly infected with HIV in Asia in 2010 were considerably fewer than the 450,000 estimated for 2001.

Traditional risk groups

Notwithstanding regional variations, the HIV epidemic is being stabilised among female sex workers and traditional risk groups in the six high-prevalence States including Karnataka. But epidemics among men who have sex with men are growing across the region including India.

High prevalence

High prevalence — between 8 and 32 per cent — has been found among surveyed men who have sex with men in many Asian cities. The UNAIDS report quotes one study, which shows that the prevalence is 18 per cent in South India. The report also says that 35 per cent of children with HIV infection were receiving anti-retroviral therapy treatment.

Variation exists among commercial sex workers, with a 2009 survey showing HIV prevalence of 4.6 per cent among female sex workers in Mumbai and Thane and 24 per cent among street-based sex workers. The prevalence could be as high as 29 per cent among their brothel-based counterparts in some districts of Maharashtra.

Yielding results

There is also evidence that prevention programmes are working in India. One such programme in Karnataka was associated with a drop in HIV prevalence from 25 per cent to 13 per cent among female sex workers in three selected districts between 2004 and 2009.

A similar programme brought down the prevalence from 1.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent among young antenatal clinic attendees between 2004 and2008 in 18 districts.

And yet another intervention programme in Mumbai and Thane led to a decline from 45 per cent HIV prevalence in 2004 to 13 per cent in 2010 among brothel-based sex workers.