`India not treating AIDS patients early`

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

New Delhi: Thousands of AIDS patients in India are not receiving treatment on time, underscoring huge challenges the country faces as it combats the disease, the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said on Thursday.

India, with 2.27 million patients, is among the top three countries with the highest number of HIV cases, alongside South Africa and Nigeria.

But with HIV cases lying untreated in many parts of the country, it poses a threat to the country`s prevention measures, the fund`s executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, said.

"Some of the population groups are at higher risks and it means we have to reach these groups with prevention," Kazatchkine told a news agency in an interview.

"There are 300,000 people receiving treatment, but that is about only one-third of all the people who are estimated to be in need of treatment."

Indian authorities say HIV cases are showing signs of rising in parts of New Delhi, the financial hub of Mumbai and the north and northeast, among other areas.

"In order to access treatment you first have to know that you are HIV positive," Kazatchkine said.

The Geneva-based Global Fund, which signed healthcare agreements worth over $244 million with India this week, has committed $1.8 billion to New Delhi for fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis since 2002.

It also urged India to spend more from its budget on healthcare and improve its healthcare system domestically.

The Indian government spends about 1 percent of its GDP on healthcare facilities, much less than some African countries, forcing millions to struggle to get medicines.

"Clearly India is one of the countries with the smallest percent of health budget of its overall budget going into health and this is an issue," Kazatchkine said.

While India`s economic growth has been forecast to hover around 8.5 percent for 2010-2011, authorities acknowledge there is need to spend more in villages where many health centers do not have medicines, doctors or diagnostic facilities.

In March, the World Bank and other agencies said India will have to scale up prevention of HIV to avoid spending an increasing share of its already low budget on treatment of HIV/AIDS patients.

Otherwise the cost of treatment in India could rise to $1.8 billion by 2020, about 7 percent of the total health expenditure, the World Bank said.

Kazatchkine said India faces huge challenges as it tackles other diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.

"India bears one-fifth of all the burden of TB in the world. There are many challenges around TB and many challenges about diagnosis of malaria," he added.

Bureau Report