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Mathematics Helps India Lower AIDS Cases

NEW DELHI (AP) _ India, home to the second largest number of people infected with the HIV virus, dropped a bombshell last week when it declared that new cases fell by 95 percent in just a year. As it turns out, it was not a miracle _ just mathematics.

The National AIDS Control Organization announced 28,000 new cases of HIV infections in 2004 compared with 520,000 in 2003.

Those figures whipped up a controversy, with many health workers saying the news was too good to be true. But others _ including the World Health Organization and anti-AIDS officials from the United Nations _ said they backed the official methodology. And, they say, it does appear that HIV cases are stabilizing.

``The process and the results are based on sound methodology,'' said Dr. Salim Habayeb, an AIDS expert at the World Health Organization's South East Asian office in New Delhi. ``We support the numbers the Indian government has released.''

Independent statisticians noted the confusion sprang from a change in methodology two years ago for collecting data.

India uses sample collection centers, called ``sentinel sites,'' to monitor HIV infection. The centers earlier focused only on high-risk areas, but two years ago were expanded to cover low-risk areas as well to give a slightly higher, and more accurate, figure.

That caused the increase from 2002 to 2003 to appear exaggerated _ and last year's increase to look tiny in comparison, said Denis Broun, the India coordinator for the United Nations AIDS agency.

The Indian government, however, has done almost nothing to explain the change in methodologies, activists say, infuriating AIDS workers who heard nothing except a claim that government AIDS policies had caused a gargantuan drop in infections.

``We feel there's something drastically wrong with the figures given. We have absolutely no idea how they have come to these figures,'' Ryan Fernandes of Sahara, a New Delhi-based group working with HIV-positive women, said over the weekend. ``At the grassroots level, we find things are much different. Everyday we are getting to know of new cases.''

India has 5.13 million HIV-positive people, the second highest after South Africa. The overall number is considered correct, Broun said.
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