VIRAL LOAD

Is India Too Optimistic About Progress on HIV/AIDS?

A recent article in the Hindustani Times—bearing the  headline “HIV AIDS Soon to Become History”—paints a sanguine picture of the fight against the epidemic in South Asia.

But is it jumping the gun?

“We are coming out of a transformative decade for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With innovative treatment regimens, improved health services as well as political commitment, HIV+ people who are on treatment are living longer and better lives,” said Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for South-East Asia. “We must learn from our experiences and work to ensure that no child born gets infected with HIV,” said Plianbangchang on the eve of the World AIDS Day Dec 1.

Between 2001 and 2010, the number of people newly infected with HIV declined sharply by 34 percent in South-East Asia that includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, among others.

The report encourages countries in the area to focus on eliminating new infections—especially mother-to-child—by 2015.

A worthwhile goal, sure, but isn’t that a bit premature?

The same report indicated that while the number of HIV+ people in the region receiving anti-retroviral drugs has increased tenfold, a majority of people with the virus are unaware of their status. “Less than one out of five pregnant women have access to HIV testing and counselling [and] two out of three HIV+ pregnant women do not receive anti-viral prophylaxis.”

When you factor in that women make up 37% of the estimated 3.5 million people in South Asia with AIDS, that’s a startling statistic. One that makes us think the virus might not be heading for history’s dustbin just yet.

Image via USF Health Office of Research