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India World's Leader Of HIV Infections - Expert
September 15, 2004 8:35 a.m.
NEW DELHI (AP)--Dismissing official figures for HIV-infection in India, the chief executive of the world's premier AIDS-fighting fund said Wednesday that India is home to the largest number of HIV-infected people.
"I don't believe in the official statistics. India is already in first place," said Richard G.A. Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
According to latest U.N. data, the deadly HIV virus has infected 5.6 million people in South Africa and 5.1 million in India. But Feachem said many experts, including him, believe the actual figure for India is much higher than the official estimate and surpasses South Africa.
The official estimate leaves out many people in this vast country of 1.03 billion people who could be carrying the virus without knowing or reporting it, he said.
"I won't put a figure on it. I will simply say it is considerably more than 5.1 million," he said. "I am happy to be wrong. But I think I will proved right, soon."
Feachem called the Indian epidemic "on an African trajectory ... and incidence of HIV/AIDS is rising rapidly."
Indian government officials weren't immediately available for comment. New Delhi in the past has rejected such fears, saying its HIV/AIDs prevention program is progressing well and the number of new cases has stabilized.
Earlier this month, the federal health minister said he is ready to commission an independent body, including foreign agencies, to compile data on HIV prevalence in the country.
In recent years the government has raised its efforts to fight the disease and several international donor agencies are pumping in millions of dollars to fund anti-HIV programs.
Still, the response is "way short of what is necessary to turn around the epidemic," said Feachem, who was in New Delhi to discuss ways to increase the Global Fund's contribution to India's fight against AIDS.
The fund has already committed $265 million in aid to the Indian government and now plans to pledge anti-AIDS funds to corporations and nongovernment organizations.
During his three-day visit, which started Wednesday, he will meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, business leaders, advocacy groups and top government officials in an effort to pledge more funding to fight AIDS.
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