India's National AIDS Control Organisation on Friday announced that there are now 4.58 million HIV cases in the country, up from 3.97 million cases in 2001, a figure that makes the country rival South Africa as the country with the world's highest number of HIV-positive citizens. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS director Peter Piot said the government report is proof that India needs to act immediately to promote condom use, eliminate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, and to encourage open discussion of HIV prevention in order to prevent "tens of millions of new infections," Agence France-Presse reports.
Indian health officials say slightly more than 61% of HIV-positive Indians are men and that the disease has spread beyond specific high-risk groups and urban centers into rural areas and the general population. U.S. health officials estimate that as many as 25 million India residents could be HIV-positive by 2010 unless aggressive awareness and prevention campaigns begin soon. India health and government officials will discuss the country's HIV crisis at the first National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV/AIDS, scheduled for July 26-27 in New Delhi. More than 1,500 lawmakers from all levels of the nation's government are expected to attend the meeting with the goal of enacting legislation and allocating government funds to fight HIV throughout the nation.