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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Aids threat alarms Indian PM

India crowd
Experts say India needs to act urgently to curb HIV/Aids
The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has called for a concerted national effort against HIV/Aids, as new figures show a sharp rise in the number of Indians infected with the virus.

Addressing the biggest forum on HIV/Aids ever held in India, Mr Vajpayee said the epidemic demanded an "effective and undelayed response" from all sections of society.

"It is obvious that political parties in our country need to pay far greater attention to issues of health care than they do now," he said.

More than 4.5 million Indians were infected with HIV/Aids by the end of 2002, India's National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) reported on Friday.

The figure for 2001 was below four million.

More than 1,000 politicians from across India, including senior central and state officials, legislators, mayors and local leaders, are attending the two-day conference in Delhi.

UN officials and non-government organisations are also due to give presentations at the forum.

Mr Vajpayee complained that in India, public health issues did not normally find a place on the nation's political agenda.

"This is not so in other democracies, where sometimes even elections are won or lost on the basis of health issues," he told the forum.


NACO says that in a number of states, HIV infection among pregnant women has crossed the 1% mark for the first time.

Peter Piot
India has a king-sized problem. Aids is spreading rapidly in the country
Peter Piot
Director, UNAIDS

"HIV/Aids in India is not only confined to high-risk groups and in cities, but is gradually spreading into rural areas and the general population," said NACO director, Meenakshi Datta Ghosh.

The UN's top Aids official, Peter Piot, said the challenge was to rapidly scale up Aids prevention programmes nationwide, and to ensure that Aids treatment is widely accessible to people living with HIV/Aids.

"India has a king-sized problem. Aids is spreading rapidly in the country," he told journalists in Delhi.

"But it is a problem with a solution. We can act now before it is too late."


India has the second highest rate of HIV infection after South Africa.

The UN believes public ignorance is fuelling the spread of Aids.

So far, the government has been slow to tackle the problem, partly due to pressure from conservatives who oppose any prevention that could be interpreted as promoting promiscuity.

But correspondent say attitudes are changing as the epidemic spreads.

Heterosexual transmission and intravenous drug injections are the main modes of transmission of HIV.

The BBC's Johnathan Beale
"If you're HIV in India expect to suffer in secret and in silence"

Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee
"The fight against HIV... requires great courage and leadership"

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