India Faces AIDS Tidal Wave
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) -- India, where an estimated 4.5 million people carry the HIV virus, faces an AIDS "tidal wave" and may have already overtaken South Africa as the world's most infected country, health experts warned on Tuesday.
China, where officials said at the weekend that AIDS was spreading rapidly, is also a major concern with 840,000 estimated HIV infections amid unreliable data in some areas, they added.
Senior officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS agency and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria were speaking at a news conference to launch WHO's annual World Health Report.
The WHO's report warned the world was not ready for the full social and economic impact of AIDS, which has killed more than 20 million people in the last quarter century.
The United Nations agency said that unless nations pulled together to defeat it, AIDS would destroy any hope of a better life for tens of millions, including non-sufferers, worldwide.
South Africa has an estimated five million HIV sufferers -- the highest number worldwide -- against an official 4.5 million reported in India, according to Richard Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund.
"I believe the Indian statistics are underestimated and that already India has considerably more infected people than South Africa," Feachem said.
"What is much more alarming is looking at the future. With an epidemic growing so fast and a large population, it will become far, far larger than any epidemic in any other country," he added.
India is the world's second-most populous nation, after China, with more than one billion people.
Despite the threat, India had not put in place the necessary policies for preventing, testing and treating sufferers which were needed "if India is going to turn around the tidal wave of HIV/AIDS which is breaking over it," Feachem said.
China's State Council, or cabinet, on Sunday ordered urgent measures including school education and public awareness campaigns to help keep the deadly virus in check.
Lee Jong-Wook, WHO director-general who recently held talks with senior officials in Beijing, said China appeared determined to confront AIDS.
Chinese health authorities were working to fulfil a pledge to provide treatment free of charge, he said, adding: "This will obviously take some time until it is put in place, but it is very encouraging news and a turnaround."
Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, said China's estimate of 840,000 sufferers seemed to be on the right order of magnitude.
"I would say it is safe to assume it is around one million," Piot said. "The data are quite good for some provinces, but not so reliable for others."
The WHO report said the world at large was "far from ready for what is to come" -- catastrophic social and economic consequences for many communities and countries if the epidemic continued unchecked.
The 170-page report, entitled "Changing History," is to be presented at the agency's annual assembly next week.
Of the six million people in developing countries who need anti-retroviral therapy, only 400,000 got it last year, it said.
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