14 May 2010
Health department officials from ten high prevalence districts of Tamil Nadu were in the city on Thursday to brainstorm if the state, rated high in management of HIV/AIDS, has dropped its guard. The introspection was prompted by the continuing high incidence in Salem, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Erode, Coimbatore and Tiruchi.
“We once had the dubious distinction of having the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. From there, in a decade we became the model state as we brought down prevalence rate from 1.25% to nearly 0.25%. Yet the number of new positive cases in at least 10 districts has not come down. This is a matter of concern,” said health secretary VK Subburaj.
Officials presented data on how studies have repeatedly shown a general dip in prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the state, but there has been no significant decrease in the prevalence of the virus in at least six epicentre districts on the western side of the state where truckers are in large numbers. Madurai, Theni, Dindigul and Vellore have also not shown significant improvement. “The state would have been removed from the list of high prevalence states if these epicentre districts show a decline in prevalence,” said TNSACS project director Shambu Kollolikar.
A majority of the country’s 2.31 million people living with HIV/AIDS are in the southern states, according to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). Tamil Nadu has nearly 8% of the total HIV–infected people, according to the surveillance and sentinel survey for 2007. Namakkal and Salem, which have the dubious tag of being the HIV Highway, saw a temporary dip in 2003, but registered a rise in 2007 when the prevalence rate crossed 2%. The prevalence in the state has come down from 1.2% in 2001 to 0.38% in 2006 and 0.25 in 2007. “The number of people coming in for tests has gone up from 10 lakh to 33 lakh. So the number of people testing positive has also gone up. The rate of infection, however, has been declining. It may not be to the extent we see in other districts. For instance, in Salem, the rate of infection has come down from 3.37 in 2006 to 1.27 in 2009. A majority of the new cases, the infection must have set in at least 10 years ago. The CD counts, which normally is above 1,000 in fresh cases was below 300 in 70% of the cases detected in the last two months. Most of these people are from neighbouring districts,” he said.
Many like AIDS Prevention And Control–Voluntary Health Services project director Bimal Charles agree with TNSACS. “There is no alarm yet. But if we want significant changes in epicentres like in other areas we will have to work harder. May be the ten districts need special intervention,” he said.