Tamil Nadu sustains declining HIV trend

Ramya Kannan

CHENNAI: The just-released HIV Sentinel Surveillance and HIV Estimation 2007 figures that show a nationwide decline (0.34 per cent) have good news for Tamil Nadu. The State continues to show the declining trend, now established at 0.25 per cent.

Tamil Nadu, which notoriously led the country with high rates of HIV prevalence between 2000 and 2003, has since stabilised and continued with a downtrend over the past few years. The figures released recently by the National AIDS Control Organisation indicate that Andhra Pradesh now leads the country, not only in prevalence but also for being home to the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (21 per cent of the country’s PLHA). Tamil Nadu has only eight per cent of the total PLHA.

The figure of 0.25 per cent is derived from the antenatal care (ANC) group comprising pregnant women, believed to represent the general population. “This is a considerable and clear decline in the number of HIV infections among the general population. This has been the case over the past two-three years,” according to Supriya Sahu, Project Director, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society. “If you analyse the data and compare it with other States such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu has shown the maximum, sustained decline.”

What is interesting, epidemiologists point out, is that there has been a significant decline even among the other high risk groups in the State. The mean prevalence among female sex workers is 4.68 per cent, the NACO figures reveal.

In the category, Men Seeking Men, the NACO has noted the prevalence of new pockets of epidemic in the country and it pegs the Tamil Nadu figure at 6.60 per cent, slightly higher than in 2006.

Among Injecting Drug Users, the figure has declined to 16.80 per cent. However, Ms. Sahu responds that the last two figures may not be considered representative of the situation, as only two sites have been studied for the estimation.

The performance can be attributed to the State’s emphasis on prevention, right from the beginning of the campaign. “We have focussed intensively on spreading awareness and prevention messages, apart from testing and therapy,” Health Minister M.R.K. Panneerselvam said.

The intervention work undertaken in Tamil Nadu is one of the best in the country, and the targeted intervention among the high risk groups has also borne fruit, Health Secretary V.K. Subburaj says. A good work is being done in the field, thanks to the large number of NGOs, he says.

However, two areas of challenge seem to remain, as Salem and Namakkal districts continue to show a high rate of prevalence. These districts are at points of convergence of highways and have shown high migration levels and high risk behaviours right through, explains Ms. Sahu.

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