“South Asia’s HIV epidemic is severe in magnitude and scope,” according to a World Bank report issued 14 August, and efforts to combat the virus must include stronger prevention measures among the region’s heterogeneous and mobile at-risk communities. The report identified a dual approach to prevention, focusing on effective, large-scale programs for sex workers, intravenous drug users, and men who have sex with men, as well as the partners of these groups. HIV prevention among the eight countries of the region should also extend to the general population, with particular attention given to stigma reduction. (World Bank, AIDS in South Asia, 14/8/06)
India has surpassed South Africa as the country with the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS, according to a recent report from UNAIDS. The study found that an estimated 5.7 million Indians (roughly two-thirds of all infections in Asia) were living with HIV at the end of 2005, compared with 5.5 million people in South Africa. However, because India’s population of 1.1 billion is approximately 25 times the size of South Africa’s, India’s HIV/AIDS prevalence is still considered to be relatively low.
Indian Health Minister Anubumani Ramadoss disagreed with the findings, arguing that an April report by the country’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) estimated that 5.2 million Indians were infected. A possible explanation for the discrepancy in the reports’ findings is that the UNAIDS assessment accounted for people of all ages (including infants and older people), whereas the NACO estimate only included those aged 15-49. (Agence France-Presse, 31/5/06)
A colonial-era Indian law criminalizing sex between men has come under increasing public criticism even as a legal challenge to the statute from India’s Naz Foundation is scheduled to be heard in the Delhi High Court in early October. In an open letter published in September, a group of respected figures including the writer Vikram Seth, Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, and former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, wrote, “This archaic and brutal law has served no good purpose.” The letter reflects a similar argument recently made in an affidavit submitted by NACO in support of the lawsuit. NACO chief Sujatha Rao publicly reiterated this position on 26 September when she asserted that abolishing the law is “fundamental” to India’s fight against AIDS. (Financial Times, 18/9/06; New York Times, 15/9/06; Reuters 27/9/06)
Established to fill the funding void left after last year’s exit by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Myanmar’s new Three-Disease (3D) Fund has received almost US$50 million in contributions towards what is projected to be a US$100 million, five-year health fund for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The first commitments have come from Britain (US$38 million) and Australia (US$11 million). Last August, the Global Fund withdrew US$98.4 million it had earmarked for Myanmar after the government adopted measures the Fund judged would undermine its work in the military-led country. The 3D Fund was then established with the support of Australia, Britain, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. (Xinhua/People’s Daily, 21/8/06; Financial Times, 9/8/06)