Indian Christian leader warns against HIV complacency

By Ecumenical News International
July 9, 2007

A Christian health organization in India has warned that new official statistics showing a drastic fall in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the south Asian country should not lead to people lowering their guard - writes Anto Akkara from Bangalore.

"Just because the estimates have been reduced, we cannot relax," Vijay Aruldas, general secretary of the Christian Medical Association of India, told ENI on 6 July 2007.

Aruldas was speaking after UNAIDS and the World Health Organization issued a statement saying that the number of people living with HIV/Aids in India, now estimated at between 2.0 to 3.1 million people, is about half that of previous official figures.

"The ground reality has not changed with this revision of the numbers downwards. It should not lead to complacency," said Aruldas.

UNAIDS had previously estimated 5.7 million cases in India, compared to 5.6 million in South Africa. This meant that India had overtaken South Africa as the country with the most cases of HIV.

The Indian National Aids Control Organisation had previously contested the former UN figures for the country, and said there were fewer than 5.2 million cases.

Aruldas warned that it would be an "enormous calamity" if international donors scaled down their support to HIV/AIDS projects in India because of the revised estimates.

"The efforts to combat the challenge was nowhere near the requirement in the past," Aruldas said. His organization is the health arm of the National Council of Churches in India, which represents 29 Orthodox and Protestant churches. The Christian Medical Association of India runs 330 hospitals and has more than 6000 health professionals among its members.

The UNAIDS/WHO statement announcing the new HIV/AIDS figures noted, "These estimates are more accurate than those of previous years, as they are based on an expanded surveillance system and a revised and enhanced methodology."

Denis Brown, UNAIDS country director for India, said, "Though the proportion of people living with HIV is lower than previously estimated, India's epidemic continues to be substantial in numbers."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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