NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - India has slowed the spread of HIV by about 100,000 cases in the past five years with the help of an intervention partly funded by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, the Times of India reported on Tuesday, quoting a new study.
Avahan, an Indian government project launched in 2003, targeted vulnerable groups such as female sex workers and their clients and partners, men having sex with men (MSMs), truck drivers and injecting drug users.
The newspaper said a new joint study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, University of Hong Kong and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) found that Avahan successfully slowed the transmission of HIV by focusing on more high-risk groups.
"High-risk population like sex workers would infect their clients who would then spread it to other female partners like their wives," Lalit Dandona, lead author of the study was quoted as saying.
"Similarly, MSMs infected each other and then spread it within the general population through unprotected sex. Avahan showed us that by targeting high-risk groups, the virus spread among the general population can be controlled."
Avahan received $258 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and complemented the government's wider efforts on HIV prevention.
The programme was implemented in four large states - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu - and two small northeastern states of Manipur and Nagaland.
At the start of the initiative in 2003, the six states - with a combined population equalling that of the United States - were estimated to have among the highest HIV prevalence in India.
With 2.3 million reported cases of AIDS, India - like sub-Saharan Africa - is on the frontlines of the fight against the deadly virus.
Progress is being made. A UNAIDS report marking 30 years since the discovery of the disease said India's rate of new HIV infections fell by more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2009, while the global rate dropped by 25 percent.