100,000 spared from AIDS in India

Gates Foundation project is slowing the spread of HIV

(RxWiki News) A new study estimates that 100,000 people in India have avoided HIV over the past five years, as a result of an prevention project targeting high-risk groups.

India has high rates of HIV infection. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Avahan project reached out to those who were most likely to transmit the disease through sex or drug use.

"Prevention can make a big difference in battling an epidemic."

The study assessed the project's impact on infection rates from 2003, when Avahan launched, until 2008. Avahan operated in six Indian states, with the country's highest HIV rates. It targeted high risk groups such as sex workers, gay men, truck drivers, and injecting drug users. Using a combination of education, counseling, needle exchanges and free condoms, the project made impressive gains in slowing the spread of HIV.

However, success varied between regions. The study reported that infections dropped in three southern states, less so in another southern state, and not at all in two northern states. Part of the reason may be due to different modes of transmission.

Avahan, which translates in Sanskrit to “call to action” was funded by $258 million from the Gates Foundation. The study estimates the cost for each averted infection to be about $2,500. That's less than the cost of treating an infected person over his or her lifetime. The lesson of the study could be summed up in an old adage: An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.

The study was a collaboration between the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, University of Hong Kong and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). It was published in the journal The Lancet on October 11, 2011.

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Review Date: 
October 11, 2011