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With World's Second-Largest Number of HIV-Positive, India Stands on Precipice of Full-Blown Epidemic
  Associated Press
July 6, 2004
Beth Duff-Brown
Since India's first case of AIDS was reported in 1986 in Chennai, the Indian media have given HIV/AIDS minimal coverage, and the country's middle class rarely discusses the virus. Few Indians realize that an estimated 4.6 million children and adults in the country live with HIV - the world's second-largest HIV-infected population after South Africa - and another 70,000 have developed AIDS. While sex workers, homosexuals and drug users represented the first HIV generation in India, most of today's cases are among young people and housewives with unfaithful husbands.
Relief agencies worry as HIV moves from cities to rural areas, where a lack of health care, discrimination and fear could increase the numbers. An estimated 433 million Indians live in poverty and are unprepared to deal with the disease. By 2010, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency, India could see 20 million to 25 million HIV-infected people - a number the Indian government rejects.
India's National AIDS Control Organization announced it would start a $46 million plan in April designed to provide free antiretroviral drugs to 100,000 patients, primarily HIV-positive pregnant women and children, in the worst-hit areas. But Anand Grover, of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS unit, said his group estimates that fewer than 1,200 patients will receive treatment in the first year. "We welcome the program, but we see the problems already escalating. Unless they're willing to deal with them, it will be a disaster," said Grover.
Dr. Maxine Olson, resident coordinator for the UN Development Fund in India, said the Indian government has little resources to fight AIDS but is making a concerted, sincere effort. "There is no complacency within the government. But because people don't talk about it, it is continuing to spread," Olson added.
With Homosexuality Illegal, Gays Suffer AIDS Silently
San Francisco Chronicle
July 5, 2004
Sabin Russell
Being gay and HIV-positive carries tremendous stigma in India - a country where homosexuality is illegal and AIDS is so taboo that it is rarely discussed.
Humsafar Trust, a health organization in Bombay, offers medical treatment and HIV-prevention education for gay men. Humsafar Founder and Director Ashok Row Kavi said that despite being illegal, homosexuality is no less common in India than in the West. Kavi conservatively estimates that among India's 1 billion people, 20 million men are sexually attracted to other men and the number of those who have participated in some same-sex activity in their lifetime is much higher.
Despite the law's view of gays in the country, Humsafar's AIDS prevention efforts are funded by grants from the Bombay city government and US groups. Samples indicate that 20 percent of gay men in Bombay are HIV-positive - a frightening figure considering AIDS drugs are out of reach to all but the wealthiest Indian patients. "It's horrendous," said Kavi. "I personally know of 20 to 30 men closely linked to me that I know for sure are dying."
Kavi, a former journalist and self-described "ex-Hindu monk," said he is concerned about what will happen if HIV infections in India rise to 25 million, as some have projected. "Death on that scale is not going to be easy to take. But the fact is, it is staring us in the face."
Dispersing Indian Prostitutes Will Spread AIDS: Rights Group
Agence France Presse
July 7, 2004
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch warned that the forced dispersal of thousands of sex workers in India's Gao state will drastically harm efforts to control the spread of HIV. In the beach community of Baina, Gao state authorities have destroyed 250 homes of prostitutes and 800 homes of other residents, HRW said, adding that 22 persons who peacefully protested were arrested. Area sex workers "had a well-known record of working to promote condom use in the community as well as among their clients," said HRW HIV/AIDS Program Director Joanne Csete. "Now that the sex workers are dispersed and unable to work together on HIV prevention, the whole community is at greater risk for HIV."
Richard Gere to Launch AIDS Awareness Campaign in India
Associated Press
Jul 7, 2004
Today in Bombay, US actor Richard Gere is expected to introduce the Heroes Project, his new HIV/AIDS campaign. Gere last year revealed his intention to work with Indian business leaders, government officials, movie stars and cricket celebrities to slow the epidemic's spread in India. During the past year, Gere has become a vocal activist against AIDS in India.
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