India’s efforts to tackle HIV is bearing fruit. The numbers of new HIV infections, AIDS-related deaths and people living with HIV all fell substantially. However, the success did not come without a caveat.
India may be making progress against HIV but experts have warned it is not yet on course to meet targets of reducing new infections below 500,000 annually by 2020. With news reports now arising of HIV hotspots in the northeast of India, it is easy to see why.
The states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura have pockets where HIV rates are much higher than the rest of the country. This is particularly true of vulnerable groups. Among intravenous drug users (IDUs), for example, HIV prevalence stands at 37.44 per cent in sites of the Mizoram capital Aizawl, compared to the national average of 6.3 percent. Other sites in Mizoram see HIV prevalence among IDUs as high as 38.14 percent.
“India may be making progress against HIV but experts have warned it is not yet on course to meet targets…With news reports now arising of HIV hotspots in the northeast of India, it is easy to see why.”
Statewide, Mizoram records the highest HIV prevalence in the country. 1.19 percent of its citizens test positive for the disease. While this may not seem a significant figure, it equates to almost 13,000 HIV-positive people in the state alone.
The same problem is observed nationwide. HIV prevalence of just 0.3 percent, framed against the backdrop of a 1.3 billion-plus population, translates to 2.1 million people suffering from the condition.
When considering that 31 percent of HIV-positive Indians are unaware of their status, one might expect the burden to be much higher. This may be particularly of the country’s emerging hotspots.
Going forward, to further its progress against HIV, India must scale up efforts to provide testing and scale up treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART). Government initiatives have been set up to this end, with a ‘test-and-treat’ strategy providing for anyone who tests positive for HIV to be immediately offered ART. Ensuring such efforts reach patients at the district level – especially in the emerging northeastern hotspots – must be a vital component of the Centre’s HIV control strategy going forward.