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Times of India
10 June 2008
New Delhi, India
By Kounteya Sinha

A quarter of a century after AIDS first appeared, fears of a global pandemic outside Africa are receding and that means large populations in countries like India and China are not as much at risk of a large–scale manifestation of the disease as has been believed so far.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has for the first time said the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic might have passed and Dr. Kevin de Cock, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and head of the organisation’s HIV/AIDS department, said there has been a shift in the understanding of the risks posed by the virus.

While a decade ago HIV was regarded as a risk to populations everywhere, irrespective of the percentages that practised unsafe sexual behaviour, experts are now of the view that outside of sub–Saharan Africa, the disease is largely confined to high–risk groups like men having sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), sex workers and their clients.

Speaking to TOI from New York, Dr. de Cock said, “If the virus had to cause an epidemic among the general population in India and China, as originally feared, why hasn’t it happened till now? It doesn’t look likely any more”.

Dr. de Cock, who expressed doubts about predictions of an Africa–type situation developing in India, said prevention strategies need to be focused where HIV transmission is occurring. “India needs to look at who are getting infected more often and then target that section of society”, he said. He called for massive investments in educating those most at risk rather than focus on a school AIDS programme. “Countries need to go where transmission is occurring, which they have not always been good at”, he said.

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