Friday, February 24, 2006

HIV/AIDS: Problem spreads to children and adolescents

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 24: Even as the State is battling to control HIV which is assuming monstrous proportions, the infection has spread to new population groups affecting children below 14 years of age.
According to the latest Sentinel Surveillance Report of the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society, about four per cent of all HIV positive cases are children below 14 years. Officials are surprised at the spread of HIV in small children as Andhra Pradesh is primarily a "heterosexual State" where 90 per cent of the HIV/AIDS cases are through heterosexual transmission and just 0.46 per cent cases are through gay relationships. They believe that the streetchildren factor might have contributed to the high incidence of HIV in small children along with mother-to-child transmission route.
What is horrifying is that the State has fast moved from the "high risk groups" phase to "bridge population and vulnerable groups" phase. The State no more has any identifiable high risk groups like truckers and prostitutes. The infection has become quite common and everyone irrespective of social background in the State is at risk.
"We have five lakh HIV cases in the State and of this four per cent are children below 14 years of age. It is affecting women and children, both vulnerable groups, adversely. We do not have data on the exact cause of spread of HIV to this group of population. We cannot say for sure that HIV in small children is through sexual contact. There is no provision in law for a random survey on HIV/AIDS and hence we depend on the cases visiting voluntary counselling centres, STD clinics or prenatal test units", says APSACS joint director Padmavathi.
Andhra Pradesh is one of the States where HIV has become generalised epidemic with a prevalence rate of above one per cent. The prevalence is above one per cent in 18 districts and above two per cent in the districts of Kadapa, Nellore, Prakasam, Gutur, East and West Godavari and Srikakulam.
Another factor troubling APSACS is the spread of HIV among teenagers. About 50 per cent of the new infections reported are in the age group of 15 to 24 years. Taking prevalence into consideration, 45 per cent of the infections are in the age group of 15-29 years. About 90 per cent of the infections are in the age group of 15-49 years.
According to official statistics for 2004-2005, 3.66 per cent of HIV patients are below 14 years, 44.89 per cent in the age group of 15-29 years, 35.23 per cent (30-39 years), 12.45 per cent (40-49 years) and 3.77 per cent (above 50 years).
Probable modes of transmission as per the information reported in voluntary counselling and testing centres are: heterosexual transmission - 89.23 per cent; homosexual transmission - 0.46 per cent; infected syringes and needles - 0.80 per cent, blood and blood products - 0.98 per cent and others 8.5 per cent.