Global AIDS figures to come down
Aug 19, 2007 - 2:45:21 PM
Colombo, Aug 19 - Some 25 years after the discovery of the first case of AIDS, the global figure for people living with the virus will come down when fresh figures are released in November, a senior official of the United Nations AIDS umbrella disclosed Sunday.
The scale-down in the epidemic is being attributed to a new counting methodology pioneered jointly by the Indian government and the UN - which saw the figures for Indians living with HIV/AIDS decline from 5.7 million to around three million two months ago.
'The global numbers will come down a bit - but I can't tell you exactly how much. For that you will have to wait until November when our annual report is released,' UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Deborah Landey said at a press conference to kick off the eighth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific -.
'The prevalence rates from country to country may come down but our concern is that declining numbers could conceal the complexity of the picture and we are very worried about complacency setting in,' Landey said in response to a query by IANS.
'For instance, prevalence rates can decline simply because people are dying. We will try to capture some of the complexity of data in November,' she added.
According to figures released by UNAIDS last year, there are between 34 and 42 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide, and Landey thought the figures to be announced in November will stay in that broad bracket.
One of the main reasons for the decline will be the methodology of Population Household Survey - house-to-house counting that Landey said is particularly good for rural areas - which was used in India to gauge the extent of the epidemic for the first time earlier this year.
The same methodology has now been tried out in 22 countries in Africa and the Caribbean, and 20 of them have returned lower figures for HIV/AIDS - a fact that is certain to bring down the global numbers.
'Good and accurate data are evolving. What India has done very well is to tap different survey methodologies,' Landey added.
But she sounded a note of caution: while Population Household Surveys were good at capturing rural data, they can do little about people who are not at home when health workers pay a visit. And these can include high-risk groups such as truck drivers, migrant workers and sex workers.
Landey's startling disclosure about the expected decline in numbers comes at a crucial juncture in the global fight against HIV/AIDS - with more and more money being put into prevention and access to life-saving drugs that were once out of reach of poor people, the international campaign to fight the spread of the disease is seeing its first glimmer of hope.
The danger, say health experts in Colombo, is that news about declining numbers will lead to governments becoming complacent in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
'We are worried about complacency,' said Landey. 'Countries that have become complacent have seen the epidemic go up.'
Some 2,500 health experts and community workers from 70 countries across Asia-Pacific are attending the ICAAP meeting from 19 to 23 August.
They will exchange notes and share lessons in best practices so that Asia-Pacific can avoid the experience of sub-Saharan Africa - a region that has been devastated by HIV/AIDS, said Athula Kahanda Liyanage, secretary to the Sri Lankan health ministry.
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