[NEW DELHI] A dramatic decline in HIV infections in southern India has been reported, adding to growing evidence that the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic has peaked and is now in decline.
More then one in every 100 people in southern India is infected with HIV. But according to research published by The Lancet today (30 March), this number is falling among young men and women.
In an accompanying article, James Shelton of the US Agency for International Development and colleagues say that, together with recent data from Africa and China, the findings suggest that HIV infections have peaked globally.
Researchers led by Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto, Canada, assessed the HIV status of 294,000 women attending antenatal clinics, and 59,000 men attending clinics for sexually transmitted infections between 2000 and 2004.
In India's southern states, HIV infections fell by 35 per cent in women aged 15-25, and by 36 per cent in men aged 20-29. No significant decline was found in older women, or for either gender in northern India.
Jha's team says the reason for the southern Indian decline is that more men, and female sex workers, are using condoms.
"These good results come as an encouragement to the government and are a confirmation that the right policy can yield positive results if implemented in the right way," says Denis Broun, UNAIDS's India coordinator.
He cautions, however, that India should not become complacent, as HIV prevalence is still high in high-risk groups.
Data from India's National AIDS Control Organisation also suggest infection rates have been levelling out among men in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and in Mumbai, in Maharashtra state.
However these figures are often disputed. Public health experts have claimed that the true number of infections is far higher than the official estimate of five million (see Experts dispute Indian claims of huge drop in HIV cases).
A study published last month in the National Medical Journal of India also found evidence of a decline and concluded that India's HIV epidemic could be abating.Reference: The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736 (06) 68435-3 (2006)