At least 7,200 people have died of AIDS in India, the world’s second worst affected nation, since an official count began two decades ago, a top health official said on Sunday.
The figure was a cumulative estimate which most likely suffered from under-reporting, said S.Y. Qureshi, director of the state-run National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which deals with every aspect of the disease in India.
“Till June, the number of dead from AIDS was about 7,200. This cumulative figure is based on anonymous estimates,” he told.
“The actual casualty figure could be more, but what happens is that many AIDS deaths are attributed to secondary causes like tuberculosis.”
India’s health department began keeping count of AIDS deaths in 1986.
Worldwide, about 39 million people have HIV/AIDS, including 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa.
NACO estimates said 1,114 people died of AIDS in 2004-05 and 1,514 the previous year in India.
The United Nations estimates around 5.1 million people are HIV-infected in India, second only to South Africa.
Of them, NACO says around 103,000 people have full-blown AIDS. Health NGO’s believe the number is much higher.
Qureshi said his organisation went only by reported cases.
“There are many people who are completely unaware they have HIV/AIDS. Then, the fear of stigma prevents many more from disclosing they are infected or seeking treatment,” he said.
He estimates less than one percent of India’s more than one billion population could be infected with HIV, compared to some African countries where the figure is as high as 30 percent.
“This, however, is not a consolation,” he said. “Even one percent of our population is a huge number.”
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD