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`Number of HIV-affected in State may be more'

By Our Staff Reporter

CHENNAI, OCT. 29. Researchers working among those living with HIV/AIDS fear that the actual number of those affected people in the State may be several million more than the estimates given by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO).

According to the 2003 sentinel surveys at government hospitals, an estimated 5.1 million people in India live with HIV. In Tamil Nadu, the number could be at least one per cent of the State's population. It could be higher, the researchers say, as some women do not go to hospital for childbirth.

Also, private clinics tend to avoid admitting those living with HIV/AIDS. Such persons would not show up in a survey.

At a recent meet for medical professionals, M. Senthamizhan, joint director of Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society, said about one per cent of the State's population (about 4.32 lakh people) was infected. The NACO's web site, however, puts it at more than one per cent, taking into account the infected new mothers and extrapolating it to cover the general population.

U.N. estimate

The United Nations has estimated that by 2010, about 10 million Indians would be infected and by 2020 the life expectancy might fall to 43 from 61 years. He related the increase to rapid urbanisation that resulted in a shift in jobs, phasing out of old industries in villages, migration of workers and changes in family structures.

"Newly-infected people" will not exhibit symptoms for some years and by then irreparable damage might have been done, said N. Kumarasamy, World Health Organisation consultant and chief medical officer of YRG Centre for AIDS Research and Education.

The non-government organisation has been studying the development of the disease in nearly 7,000 patients for five years now.

"People come to us after acquiring AIDS. If somebody gets it today they may take five to eight years to show symptoms."

Opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis set in when the CD4 count (the white blood cells) falls below 200. But, treatment should begin when the count is 400 or less. Medical professionals must consider that the patient might be HIV infected, he said.

Viral infection

In the initial stages those affected suffer from typical viral infection problems that go undiagnosed.

Though 70 per cent of such persons were men, women contributed to 30 per cent of the infection as they got the condition more easily and pass it on to their children. Almost 5 per cent of the infected group contacted AIDS through unchecked blood transfusion.

Antiretroviral therapy to monitor and prevent the infection was discussed by research officers with the experimental medicine department of Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University.

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