For the next three years, it will be about getting to zero. Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths. This is the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day, observed on December 1. In fact, the World Health Organisation has stated that all the World AIDS Days between 2011 and 2015 will have this theme.
With this background, the recent UNAIDS Global Report 2012 has some encouraging statements. There are 7,00,000 fewer new HIV infections across the world in 2011 than in 2001 with incidences (new infections) of the disease being reduced in 25 countries. This includes India, which saw the new infections come down by 57 per cent.
As per the latest data of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), 23.9 lakh people are living with HIV in India, which is 0.31 per cent of the adult population. Thirty-nine per cent of the affected population are female and 3.5 per cent are children.
Figures with the Kerala State AIDS Control Society (KSACS) suggest that 40,060 people are living with HIV in the state, accounting for 0.19 per cent of adult population.
“HIV prevalence in Kerala has not found to be increasing since 2006,” said Dr T V Velayudhan, Project Director, KSACS. “This is because of the successful efforts to raise awareness among people in the state.”
Despite this high level of awareness, there are still a few misconceptions to be tackled, he said. A lot of people still believe that casual contact - shaking hands, sharing utensils - with an HIV infected person can spread the virus, which is not true.
“There are only four modes of transmission - sexual contact, use of infected needles, from affected mother to child and by transfusion of infected blood,” said Dr Velayudhan. “Unsafe sexual practices among heterosexuals are responsible for 82-87 per cent of the HIV transmission.”
Another myth is that there is no treatment available for HIV/AIDS.
“Anti-retroviral treatment is now available which will help HIV positive people and those with AIDS to live longer and healthier lives,” said the doctor. “In Kerala, such treatment is available in eight centres, including five government hospitals, where the drugs are supplied by the NACO, making it affordable.”
Although the prevalence and incidence of the disease have come down in the state, a trend has been observed that the prevalence is rising in the general population, especially among women and children in rural areas, according to Dr Velayudhan.
“While incidence has come down in high-risk groups like sex-workers and injecting drug users, it is being noted in the general public,” he said. “But as of now, we do not have data to back it up.”