Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, on Tuesday told a gathering in Paris that India has passed South Africa as the nation with the largest number of HIV-positive people, Agence France-Presse reports. "The official statistics show India in second place and South Africa in first place," Feachem said. "The official statistics are wrong. India is in first place." He also said that the AIDS epidemic in India is "out of control."
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS says that as of the end of 2003, South Africa had an estimated 5.3 million HIV-positive residents, and India had 5.1 million. But Feachem says India's actual caseload is probably much higher because of poor disease-reporting practices in the country and could be as high as 8.5 million people. Most HIV transmissions in India are occurring through heterosexual sex, indicating that the epidemic has taken root in the general population and is poised to explode in the country of more than 1 billion people, Feachem says. He added that HIV ignorance and stigma are widespread in India, placing its residents at an increased risk for HIV infections.