Health ministry rubbishes AIDS headcount

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 31 January 2007

a recent study of Andhra Pradesh's Guntur district, which shows that the number of hiv/aids patients in India could be an overestimate, has been called "unrealistic" by the Union ministry of health and family welfare (mohfw). The number of such patients in India has long been a controversy.

The ministry had the study reviewed by a team of experts, which says that though it is of great value to understand the epidemic in Guntur, the findings of a single district should not be applied to the entire country. In a press release, unaids, too, had voiced its concern about some of the extrapolations and calculations in the paper.

The study, conducted by a group of researchers led by Lalit Dandona of Administrative Staff College, Hyderabad, collected blood samples from 12,617 individuals.The representative samples were taken from men and women between ages 15-49, and different socio-economic groups. The results were then extrapolated to the whole population (between the age of 15-49) of Guntur.

This led to an estimation that 45,900 individuals in the district are affected with hiv, which is 2.5 times lower than the estimation made by the government's method. The study was recently published in the online medical journal, BMC Public Health.

The researchers attributed this discrepancy to the sentinel surveillance method used by government agencies to estimate the number of people affected by hiv/aids. The sentinel surveillance method uses data from large public-health hospitals. However, the method does not provide a true picture of the country's situation, as more often high-risk groups, referred by private practitioners, come to these hospitals, feel the researchers.

The study thus puts the actual number of affected adults in the country between 3.2 to 3.5 million. The government says there are 5.2 million infected adults, while the un estimates that 5.7 million, including children, are infected. Voluntary groups say that severity is under-reported.

The Administrative Staff College researchers have thus called for a re-evaluation of the official method. Standing by the government's research method, Samarjit Jana, an epidemiologist says that as of now, this is the best available method to fix the trends of the disease. Jana, however, hopes that the method can still be improved.

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