Wednesday, December 01, 2004

UNAIDS Executive Director on AIDS and Rajasthan

Cautioning Rajasthan that it had the “cocktail” of ingredients leading to a possible AIDS epidemic, Executive Director of UNAIDS Peter Piot prescribed a concerted and large-scale campaign at various levels to contain the epidemic. “But the good news is that you have begun the fight early,” he said, speaking at a function organised recently by the Rajasthan AIDS Control Society (RSACS) and the India-Canada Collaborative HIV/AIDS Project (ICHAP).

Although being a low-prevalence state, Rajasthan has a population of 56.4 million that is subjected to significant movement of people. The mines here employ nearly 500,000 workers, many of them from outside, and an estimated 25,000 trucks ply on the NH-8 each day.

Then there is the proximity of high-prevalence states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat. Moreover, the large inflow of domestic and international tourists also increases the vulnerability of Rajasthan to a possible explosion of HIV cases. Currently, the registered number of “full-blown” AIDS patients at the SMS Hospital, generally accepted as an indicator for the entire state, stands at 1,153.

Project Director of the Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society Dinesh Mathur informed that AIDS was increasingly spreading to the rural areas in Rajasthan. “Jaipur, Nagaur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu account for 57 per cent of the total cases in Rajasthan,” he said.

Meanwhile, Piot expressed optimism, albeit cautious, that AIDS had made it to the political and financial forums across the world. “It has even made it to the Common Minimum Programme in India. It is a bold step for it is not just a speech but an official document for the working of the government,” he said. Piot informed that globally the amount of money spent on AIDS in developing countries stood at $ 200 million about seven years ago. “Today, it is around $ 6 billion and half of it is coming from domestic resources,” he added.

However, a recent audit of the National AIDS Control Authority had revealed significant deposits of unspent funds. Piot felt it was not just a matter of money and that not enough was being done to increase awareness about AIDS and talk about it. “It’s still too timid. India has to think big,” he said. UNAIDS is now looking at the low-prevalence states in India, including Rajasthan, and would offer a “window of experience” to other states and countries with similar problems. “We would also advocate for funding and offer technical support,” Piot said.


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