South Asia's AIDS epidemic would grow rapidly unless eight countries in the region, especially India, can saturate high-risk groups with better HIV prevention// measures, according to a new World Bank report.
More than 5.5 million people are infected with HIV in South Asia, with the epidemic increasingly driven by the region's flourishing sex industry and injection drug use, said the report presented at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada, Monday.
Halting the spread of the epidemic will depend on a two-pronged approach, says the report, "AIDS in South Asia: Understanding and Responding to a Heterogeneous Epidemic", released here.
First, establishing effective prevention programmes for groups at increased risk of HIV infection such as sex workers and their clients, injection drug users, and men who have sex with men.
Second, resolving the social and economic drivers of the epidemic such as poverty, stigma, and trafficking of women for sex.
"Reaching and involving people at risk of HIV is the greatest challenge in South Asia because they're frequently marginalised within their own communities because of what they do," says Julian Schweitzer, Director for Human Development in the World Bank's South Asia regional team.
Despite similar times of HIV introduction, epidemics in the various countries have played out in remarkably different ways, the report said noting that India could even be considered a continent in itself, with individual states and even smaller geographic pockets with unique epidemic patterns requiring different HIV responses.
Indeed, a major lesson from South Asia and also from Sub-Saharan Africa - a region with approximately half the population of India alone - is the need to understand how HIV transmission patterns can be remarkably different both between and within regions and countries, it said.
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