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HIV hub shifts east

New Delhi, Nov. 30: Bihar is among 10 states mainly in eastern and northern India that now account for over half of all new HIV infections among adults and may require stronger control efforts, a Union health ministry agency said today.

The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), releasing its latest surveillance report, said Bihar, Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are low prevalence states that now make up 57 per cent of new HIV infections in India.

The report highlights a 57 per cent reduction in new HIV infections over the last decade, but the decline has significantly slowed over the past five years — the estimated number of new HIV infections in adults reduced from about 274,000 in 2000 to 123,000 in 2007 to 116,000 in 2011.

The number of new infections in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Odisha and Sikkim has steadily increased over the past decade, according to the report. (See chart)

Health workers tracking HIV trends in India say the rising figures show growth of infections in states that have traditionally been considered areas of low HIV prevalence.

These estimates generate evidence for where the AIDS control programme would need to “focus ahead”, Sayan Chatterjee, the director-general of the NACO said in a message released with the report.

NACO said India’s overall HIV prevalence has declined steadily from 0.41 per cent to 0.35 per cent in 2006, and 0.27 per cent in 2011.

Health officials attribute this decline to a slew of prevention and control activities — from educational campaigns for students, truck drivers, and commercial sex workers to the distribution of free condoms and improved facilities to treat sexually transmitted diseases.

But officials say the increase in new infections in what were long viewed as low-prevalence states highlights the need for “stronger interventions” aimed at curbing the spread of HIV.

NACO said movement of migrant workers from urban centres to rural areas might explain the increase.

The detection of HIV infections among pregnant women with migrant spouses points to the possible role of “migration”, NACO said in its report.