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India counted among AIDS flashpoints

Langley (Virginia), Oct. 1: Rates of infection from the AIDS virus in five of the world’s most populous countries are rising so fast that they pose potential security threats to their regions and to the United States, a group that advises the CIA said here today.

The countries — China, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Russia — comprise 40 per cent of the world’s population and by 2010 collectively will have more HIV-infected people than any other country, an official of the agency said.

By 2010, the number of infected people in these countries will grow to an estimated 50 million to 75 million from the current estimate of 14 million to 23 million, the group known as the National Intelligence Council said. It is an advisory group to the director of the CIA composed of individuals from the government, academia and the private sector. HIV, the AIDS virus, could harm the economic, social, political and military structure in each of the five countries, a CIA official said in releasing the declassified portions of the council’s report.

HIV would spark tensions over spending priorities, driving up health care costs and sharpening military manpower shortages, David F. Gordon, a CIA official and the report’s author said at a news conference at the intelligence agency’s headquarters here. For example, Gordon said, the AIDS epidemic in Russia is likely to help shape how that country emerges in the post-Soviet era. In Russia, up to one-third of prospective military conscripts are deemed unfit for service because of HIV and chronic hepatitis from drug use, the report said.

Gordon also said that the AIDS epidemic has the potential to generate political tensions in Nigeria, an important oil producer. He also said that the AIDS epidemic could weaken Nigeria’s peace-keeping role for the United Nations in Africa.

Although the governments of China, India and Nigeria are beginning to focus on the AIDS threat, the report said, all five countries need “dramatic shifts in priorities” to control their epidemics by 2010 because the disease has built up significant momentum, health services are inadequate, and the cost of education and treatment programmes will be overwhelming.

These governments are at a critical stage in determining how they tackle the epidemic, but even if they devote more resources to it, they probably will miss significant portions of the population, the report said.

The report was given to the governments of each of the five countries about two months ago as a constructive measure to help them combat their epidemics, Gordon said. Although replies have not been received, the group looks forward to a dialogue with the countries, according to Gordon, who now directs transnational issues for the CIA and who is a former National Intelligence Officer for Economics and Global Affairs.

The AIDS epidemic is in a different stage of development in each country, but in all of them the epidemic is in a much earlier stage than it is in the worst affected areas in central and southern Africa. In all five countries, risky sexual behaviours are fuelling the epidemic, but the rates of spread differ among the five countries, the agency said. Opportunity exists for India and China to contain the disease whereas in the other three the challenge is more to manage the epidemic, Gordon said.

HIV is spreading to wider circles through heterosexual sex in India, the movement of infected migrated workers in China, and frequent amnesty releases of large numbers of infected prison inmates and rising prostitution in Russia.

The report also cautioned that there is a strong likelihood that the inconsistent use of anti-HIV drugs and the manufacture in foreign countries of unregulated, substandard drugs will lead to greater spread of drug-resistant strains of HIV.

The report projected that India will have 20 million to 25 million infected people in 2010, China 10 million to 15 million, and Russia 5 million to 8 million.

Yet, Gordon said, “these are not the worst-case scenarios.”

The council said in deriving its estimates that it gathered data from governments and nongovernmental organisations in the five countries. However, the council did not collaborate with the governments of the five countries.

The report is the latest in a series of papers by the National Intelligence Council on AIDS since the late 1980s. The new report expands on one the group issued in December 1999 on the global threat of infectious diseases, including HIV, on the United States. The US has declared the global epidemic of AIDS a national security threat.

The findings also generally affirm a similar bleak

warning issued by the United Nations at the 14th

international conference on AIDS in Barcelona, Spain,

in July in its first long-range forecast of the global

epidemic. At that time, the United Nations said that

AIDS will claim an additional 65 million lives by

2020, more than triple the number who died in the

first 20 years of the epidemic, unless more countries

vastly expand their prevention programs.

=====

Jaideep Chatterjee

Assistant News Editor

The Telegraph

6,9 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta, India

00-91-33-2600216, 00-91-33-2600229

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