HIV/AIDS poses one of the major public health challenges undermining the progress of the developing countries in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 35 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS in 2013. Of these, 3.2 million are children less than 15 years of age. An estimated 2.1 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2013. This includes over 2,40,000 children in the under 15 age group. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. HIV is the world’s leading infectious killer. WHO, estimates that 39 million people have died since the first cases were reported in 1981 and 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related causes in 2013. India has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world with 2.1 million Indians accounting for about 4 out of 10 people infected with the deadly virus in the Asia—Pacific region, according to a UN report.
Even today, despite advances in our scientific understanding of HIV and its prevention and treatment as well as years of significant effort by the global health community and leading government and civil society organizations, most people living with the disease and its risk do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment. The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and other serious problems.
Despite these challenges, there have been successes and promising signs. New global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, particularly in the last decade. Prevention has helped to reduce HIV prevalence rates in a small but growing number of countries and new HIV infections are believed to be on the decline. In addition, the number of people with HIV receiving treatment in resource-poor countries has dramatically increased in the past decade. Even studying the statistics in our country, according to National AIDS Control Organization of India, the country has demonstrated an overall reduction of 57 percent in estimated annual new HIV infections. Yet the proportions of people who do not have access to antiretroviral therapy treatment still stand at 64 per cent for India.
The Indian Red Cross Society in its role as the auxiliary to the Government has been carrying on many programmes directed at AIDS prevention. The IRCS has been very active in the prevention of HIV / AIDS. It trains youth to disseminate information about the prevention of HIV / AIDS through Youth Peer Education Programme. It also has programmes and projects for children of HIV positive mothers, to be provided comprehensive care. In 2006, the IRCS formed the AIDS consortium of several National Societies, the ICRC and the IFRC were members. The Red Cross volunteers have been working tirelessly for AIDS prevention and control and more so in areas where there has been high prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases. Besides creating awareness in the communities, the IRCS focus has also been on care and support as well as fighting stigma and discrimination related to the disease, which is one of the main causes of late detection and spread.
The Indian Red Cross Society is committed to carry on our humanitarian work towards dissemination of information related to the disease and efforts directed at prevention and control. Our volunteers, who are our torchbearers and our representatives in the communities continue to work in this direction and will keep doing so keeping in view the objectives of the UN Millennium Development Goal 6 to Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.
Dr S P Agarwal
Indian Red Cross Society