Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • South Asian HIV rate double that of Africa


Raising awareness of HIV
in India
[NEW DELHI] HIV infections are rising twice as fast in South Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa, experts warned at a recent meeting of the region's governments. Delegates were told that they have only a narrow window of opportunity to stem the epidemic.

Figures presented at the meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal — which was jointly organised by UNICEF and UNAIDS — showed that from 1997 to 2001, the rate at which HIV infections are increasing in South Asia is 60 per cent, compared to 30 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although Africa has borne the brunt so far in terms of numbers, we are seeing staggering increases in the number of new infections in some of the most populous countries of the world," says Swarup Sarkar of UNAIDS Southeast Asia.

Although the overall prevalence in South Asia — less than 1 per cent of the adult population — appears to be low, the sheer size of it population translates to a huge number of people living with HIV/AIDS. The region has over 4.2 million of the 36 million infected with HIV worldwide, with India alone accounting for 3.9 million of these, according to official estimates.

"South Asia stands at what epidemiologists call the ‘tipping point’ in the trajectory of the disease,” Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, told the meeting.

There are unmistakable signs of an expanding epidemic. South and Southeast Asia saw a staggering 700,000 new infections last year. And in Kathmandu, HIV rates among injecting drug users soared, from under 2 per cent to 50 per cent between 1991 and 1997.

Speakers at the meeting underscored the need for governments to act now. "Immediate action can prevent at least 5 million new HIV infections by 2010 and begin to turn back the epidemic in South Asia", said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.

The meeting also highlighted low levels of awareness among the region’s youth who are particularly vulnerable to the disease. A recent World Bank study showed, for example, that over 95 per cent of 15-19 year olds in Bangladesh do not know a single method of HIV prevention.

Photo credit: Nrityanjali Academy
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.