India Intelligence Report

AIDS Case Numbers Dip in South


An Institute of Medical Education and Research of Chandigarh study concluded that the number of AIDS cases in South India is lower because of the use of condoms and more awareness of infections than good medical practice or testing processes. Lead author of the study Rajesh Kumar who is a Professor at this institution cautioned “we are not saying that the epidemic is under control yet—we are saying that the prevention efforts with high risk groups thus far seems to be having effect.”

The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) estimates that the number of infected patients in India to be about 5.1 million of the worldwide total of 40.3 million. However, this is based on guesswork and not scientific sampling or collection of data. With lack of adequate healthcare facilities, poorly trained medical staff in rural India, absence with impunity of healthcare staff in Government facilities , lack of awareness, and social stigma of being infected  has made such estimation more a guesstimate.

Co-author of the study University of Toronto Public Health Sciences Professor Prabhat Jha that was carried in the UK based Lancet, said that for the first time, there is some concrete data available to base their estimates. Extracting data from antenatal or Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) clinics in the 4 Southern and 14 North Indian States, the study looked at a sample size of 294,000 women and 59,000 men. 


In the Southern States, the study found 1.7% of women in the age group 15-24 and 1.1% of the men in age group 20-29 infected. The relative decline is 36% from past guesstimate figures. Unfortunately, there is no decline in numbers for corresponding populations in the North.

What is not clear is whether the study set a new baseline data or whether there really is a decline. If the original numbers themselves are guesstimates, then it is not apparent how the authors are claiming a decrease in numbers. It is possible that the original numbers for South India were inflated in the first place and that the South, with relatively higher broad based prosperity, higher education levels, and a bit more culture were less likely to use sex-workers or at least have unsafe sex. 

In any event, this study is an excellent start of documenting and analyzing figures. So far, Governmental figures were just feel-good numbers without any concrete plan. Only independent analysis from statistically significant samples collected in a methodical manner can help India understand the impact of this epidemic. And, only better understanding will help India formulate and implement policy to effectively combat it.