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India AIDS Cases Due to Drop, Spending Up

India is expected this week to release sharply lower AIDS figures but also to announce a six-fold jump in spending to reduce the rate of infection over the next five years, officials say.

Almost three billion dollars, including about a third from foreign donors, will be poured into the next stage of India's HIV/AIDS prevention efforts to be launched in New Delhi on Friday, a top official said.

Previous estimates from India's National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) have put the HIV caseload in this country of more than one billion people at 5.2 million, while UNAIDS in 2006 estimated 5.7 million cases.

That figure made India the country with the highest number of people infected with HIV in the world.

Indian officials were tightlipped on Saturday about the new numbers.

"There will certainly be a decline but it has to be understood in the correct context, with the correct reading," NACO director Sujatha Rao told AFP.

A senior official with UNAIDS, the UN agency that coordinates the campaign against HIV/AIDS, also told AFP earlier this month that the numbers would likely drop.

"Most probably the figures will be lower than we thought," said Dennis Broun, country director for UNAIDS India.

"When UNAIDS gave the estimate of 5.7 million in India we said it could as low as 3.4 million and as high as nine. That is a very broad range. It might be that it could be even lower."

Reports in local media have put the new estimate at around three to 3.5 million cases.

Officials said the massive drop could be attributed to the fact that the data available this year is better than ever.

"There are more sentinel sites than before so we have a better picture of the epidemic," said Broun, referring to testing sites where samples are taken from members of both low- and high-risk groups, to be used as markers.

"We also h
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