A Ticking Time Bomb

India holds the third largest absolute number of HIV infections in the world; more than 20,00,000!

Grave Concern


The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) poses an unprecedented public health emergency, having already caused enormous ill health and mortality worldwide. Given the scale of the epidemic, HIV/AIDS is now considered not only a health problem, but also a developmental and security threat. Ever since it emerged in the early 1980’s in the United States of America, the disease has spread widely, affecting all continents and all countries of the world. In the process, it stretches the health care systems, wrecks the economies and destroys the very fabric of what constitutes a nation: individual, families and communities, political institutions, military and police forces. The disease is also widening the gap between the rich and poor nations, thereby presenting a new ethical and human rights dilemma. Just as the disease endangers pillars of nation states, so too does it strike at pillars of international stability. Developing countries, including South Africa and India are the most severely affected. In these countries the epidemic poses a great threat to society, economy and security.
According to the estimated figure of the UNAIDS, 34.0 million (31.4 million–35.9 million) people worldwide were living with HIV in 2011. An estimated 0.8% of adults aged 15-49 years worldwide are living with HIV and 1.7 million (1.5 million–1.9 million) lost their lives to AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults (4.9%) living with HIV and accounting for 69% of the people living with HIV worldwide. AIDS is not a problem confined to Africa. There are full-blown epidemics in parts of South and Southeast Asia. As per the UNAIDS 2011 report, in South and Southeast Asia, an estimated 4 million people were living with HIV in 2011. Out of this 4 million, India alone has more than 50% HIV infections of the total estimate.
India holds the third largest absolute number of HIV infections in the world, following South Africa and Nigeria. This is particularly worrisome since India is home to a population of over 1 billion. As a single nation it has more people than the continents of Africa, Australia and Latin America combined. The NACO reports that adult HIV prevalence in the low prevalence states/Union  Territories including Jammu and Kashmir has risen over the years. In Jammu and Kashmir, an estimated 5403 people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009 compared to 4791 HIV infections in 2008. In terms of percent distribution of HIV infections in different groups, children under 15 years of age account for 2.18% of all infections, whilst people aged 15 to 49  years  account for 90.14% of  all  infections in 2009.  The data on new adult HIV infections in Jammu and Kashmir is reported as 721 in 2008 and 778 in 2009. An estimate of 159 people died of AID related causes in 2008 and 183 deaths reported in 2009. The number of HIV infection is higher in Jammu region followed by valley. According to the official records, drug addiction is the main cause for the rise in HIV positive cases in Kashmir province. The drug addiction contributes to 30 percent of total cases registered with different testing centres. Other major risk groups include security forces, truckers, and migrant workers. A good number of people in the conflict ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir require blood transfusion and unsafe transfusion becomes safe passage for the virus to infect. Lack of awareness and proper treatment facilities especially in rural areas is one of the major reasons for the increasing threat of HIV/AIDS. The societal discourse around HIV/AIDS and the social reaction to people living with HIV/AIDS worsens the situation. Such HIV discrimination also strains many preventive efforts.  
HIV and AIDS is much more than a health crisis. It is high time that our policy-makers perceive the new millennium pandemic not just as a health problem rather than a politico-economic threat or national malady. It is very important to focus on cost-effective programs especially those that affect the core transmission groups such as drug addicts. More focus should also be made on the innovation and mass broadcasting of prevention strategies. Greater concentration should be on increasing the efficiency of the undergoing intervention programmes rather than organizing large number of national and international meetings. They simply waste resources. Update AIDS policies and program efficiently from time to time. State should establish a strong relationship between with other civil society groups including religious institutions. Simultaneously the civil society groups should show effective level of activism. It is true to some extent that there is simply no substitute for state action but at the same time it would be unfair to shift the burden of action or inaction on the state. We should also recognise the importance of collective commitment between individual and the state as a factor for an effective fight against AIDS. Concrete efforts should be made on minimizing stigma and discrimination and encouraging a culture where people living with HIV are not looked down upon. Finally, we should be less defensive about the issues and statistics, rather more offensive in actions and interventions. We should recognise that there is a global commitment in combating HIV/AIDS and it is time to act and deliver to all. Ignorance and negligence could lead to an utter tragedy.

The author, a native of Kargil, is Assistant Professor at Government Degree College Bijbehara, Kashmir.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 30 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 1 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST

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