1 lakh HIV cases averted in India

London: More than one lakh fresh HIV cases have been averted over the last five years among the general population in India which has some 2.4 million people living with the virus, according to a study in `The Lancet` journal. This could be possible thanks to a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -funded US dollars 338 million project, called Avahan, which was launched in six Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland in 2003. Avahan was launched for the purpose of reducing the spread of HIV in India and developing a model prevention system to encourage others worldwide to adapt and adopt it.

The project serves the groups that are most vulnerable to HIV infection, including sex workers, their clients, high-risk men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users in the six Indian states with an estimated population of 300 million.

All these six states had the highest prevalences of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in India in 2003, according to the study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, University of Hong Kong and the Public Health Foundation of India. The study says interventions like safe-sex counselling by peers, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, distribution of free condoms and needle and syringe exchange programmes among the most-at-risk population prevented the virus from spreading among the general population.

"Overall, we estimated that 100,178 HIV infections were averted at the population level from 2003 up to 2008 as a result of Avahan," the study`s author say. Lead author Prof Lalit Dandona at the PHFI, added: "HIV mainly spreads in India through sexual intercourse. HIV prevalence among the general population saw a significant reduction in AP, Karnataka, Maharashtra due to Avahan. There wasn`t a very high difference in Tamil Nadu, while there was no significant change in the two northeastern states."