December 12, 2006

India is one of the largest and most populated countries in the world, with over one billion inhabitants. Of this number, at least five million are currently living with HIV. According to some estimates, India has a greater number of people living with HIV than any other nation in the world as per UNAIDS, 2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic .

The crisis continues to deepen, as it becomes clearer that the epidemic is affecting all sectors of Indian society, not just the groups – such as sex workers and truck drivers – that it was originally associated with.

At the beginning of 1986, despite over 20,000 reported AIDS cases worldwide , India had no reported cases of HIV or AIDS.Later in the year, India’s first cases of HIV were diagnosed among sex workers in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It was noted that contact with foreign visitors had played a role in initial infections among sex workers, and as HIV screening centres were set up across the country there were calls for visitors to be screened for HIV.

In 1987 a National AIDS Control Programme was launched to co-ordinate national responses. Its activities covered surveillance, blood screening, and health education. By the end of 1987, out of 52,907 who had been tested, around 135 people were found to be HIV positive and 14 had AIDS. Most of these initial cases had occurred through heterosexual sex, but at the end of the 1980s a rapid spread of HIV was observed among injecting drug users in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland – three north-eastern states of India bordering Myanmar (Burma).

A 2004 NACO report revealed that the total number of people living with HIV had risen from 0.2 million in 1990 to 3.86 million in 2000. By 2003, 5.1 million infections had been reported.