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India is on the brink of a devastating HIV/AIDS crisis. Its burden of 5.1 million HIV-infected people is the second highest worldwide, and experts say this number could rise to 20 million by 2010.

Until now, the virus in India has been confined mainly to high-risk groups such as sex workers and truck drivers, who spread the virus as they travel across the country.

In this article in Nature, Apoorva Mandavilli reports on why the epidemic is threatening to spill over into the rest of the population.

Despite the size of the problem, the Indian government's attempts to stem the epidemic have been small compared with other countries affected by HIV/AIDS, says Mandavilli.

For example, India spends just US$0.29 per person on the problem, whereas Uganda spends US$1.85.

Campaigns to educate those at risk are mostly run by non-governmental agencies, who receive little funding from either the government or other donors. Also, existing government campaigns are targeted at heterosexual couples, since homosexual sex is illegal. But many truck drivers, believing that only women pass on HIV, have sex with young boys.

Mandavilli concludes that if the government expects people to protect themselves against infection, it needs to work harder to get its message heard.

Link to full article in Nature

Reference: Nature Doi: 10.1038/436496a

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