India, which has the second largest number of people in the world living with HIV/AIDS, said on Wednesday it had cut the growth rate of new infections sharply in 2004 as its awareness campaign reached more people.
A Health Ministry statement said only 28,000 people had been infected by the deadly virus last year compared to 520,000 in 2003.
This took the total number of infections in the country to 5.13 million, just behind South Africa where India says 5.3 million people are carrying the virus.
“The government has been carrying out widespread AIDS awareness programmes for many years ... and the effect is showing in the lower growth rate of new infections,” a Health Ministry official told.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had forecast that the number of people in India with HIV/AIDS could soar to 20 million by 2010.
While some global experts agree with the CIA forecast, Indian officials have rejected it and debunked claims that the country is facing a galloping epidemic.
But a huge stigma is attached to HIV-positive people in India and many people refuse to reveal that they are infected. There is also a lack of awareness about the illness, voluntary groups say.
The data for 2004 showed the disease had spread into rural areas, which account for nearly 60 percent of all infections.
About 2 million women were now infected, making up close to 40 percent of those living with the deadly virus in India, the statement said.
Agencies fighting the disease say a big worry is that married women are being increasingly infected by husbands who caught the virus through extramarital sex.
The Health Ministry said India continued to remain a low prevalence nation with 0.91 percent of the adult population infected with HIV against 21.5 percent in South Africa.
“However, there is no scope for complacency as the coverage (of the awareness campaign) of target populations is still less than full and certain core risk groups such as migrants and young people need to be adequately addressed,” it said.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD