Times of India
12 April 2010
“A true AIDS epidemic is not a future possibility for Maharashtra, it is a present reality,” warns a pamphlet brought out by an NGO fighting the spread of HIV. This is not an alarmist tirade. In the last three years, Maharashtra has registered the largest number of new AIDS cases in India. The 98,578 fresh cases registered in the state since 2007 made up 23% – almost a quarter – of the 4,19,982 AIDS patients registered across the country.
Maharashtra was one of the earliest states in India to be struck by the disease, registering its first AIDS case in Mumbai in 1986. Since then, the epidemic has only worsened.
Lack of awareness, a large migrant population and a thriving sex trade are some of the factors that have made it extremely difficult to combat the spread of HIV in the state.
State has most new AIDS cases in India
The National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has drawn up a list of 49 districts in India with a “high prevalence” of HIV/AIDS, of which 14 are in Maharashtra.
According to a study conducted by the Population Foundation of India, a Delhi–based NGO funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, workers in the hotel and tourism industry had the highest prevalence of HIV among groups tested in Maharashtra, followed by drivers and the unemployed. The study said truck drivers, who travel long distances, brought the infection with them, often to areas where the disease had not yet struck. Migrants in search of employment are also vulnerable to HIV as they visit brothels, but rarely use condoms.
What is worrying is that in Maharashtra, HIV is not confined to high–risk groups such as sex workers, but has entered the general population. Moreover, the disease is no longer an urban phenomenon, but has spread to rural areas as well. Now, even places like Latur, Jalgaon, Chandrapur and Sangli fall under NACO’s list of “high prevalence” districts. Experts say this is because “bridge groups” contribute to the spread of the virus, referring to husbands who use the services of sex workers and then infect their wives with HIV, who in turn pass on the infection to their babies.
Since 2007, 10,371 persons have succumbed to the disease in Maharashtra, second only to Andhra Pradesh, where 12,879 people have died due to AIDS. Public health experts say the disease can only be fought through proper counseling, awareness–raising measures, and accurate testing. J J Hospital in Byculla is one of 10 centres of excellence that are battling the advent of AIDS in India. And Maharashtra has 30 anti–retroviral treatment centres – the most in the country.
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