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India aims to stabilise new HIV infections by 2007
Updated: 2004-12-02 00:02

NEW DELHI - India, home to the second largest number of people living with HIV /AIDS, expects its growth rate in new infections to stabilise by 2007, the country's top official dealing with the deadly disease said on Thursday.

"Our goal in the national AIDS control policy is to achieve zero rate of growth in new infections by 2007," S. Y. Quraishi, director general of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), said at a U.S. embassy function.

"It is a tall order. We need to scale up the effort and we are moving in that direction," he said, without giving a projected figure for the number of people living with HIV/AIDS by 2007.

India has over 5.1 million people currently HIV-infected with only South Africa ahead in terms of those living with the disease. In 1986, India discovered its first case of HIV/AIDS. Globally, 39.4 million people are infected.

Earlier this year, the Indian government raised funding for anti-AIDS efforts by 55 percent to 4.76 billion rupees ($108.1 million) for the fiscal year ending March 2005.

Experts say the jump in spending is not enough.

"The amount is still inadequate," Dr. Quraishi told reporters after the function, adding NACO will push the government in coming weeks to further hike anti-AIDS funding.

Agencies fighting AIDS say the most worrying trend is the spread of the disease to the countryside with rural India now accounting for 59 percent of infections with many married woman being infected by husbands who have had other sexual partners.

The government said it plans to use trains early next year where coaches will have a medical clinic, an AIDS exhibition and carry dozens of volunteers who will fan out to rural areas to spread awareness about the disease.

"We expect to cover around 70 percent of rural India by these trains where travelling performers will get off and stage plays warning people against AIDS," Quraishi said.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has forecast the number of Indians with HIV/AIDS could soar to 20 million by 2010 but NACO has rejected claims India is facing a galloping epidemic.

India's HIV prevalance rate is still less than one percent while some African nations have a rate of more than 35 percent.

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