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Expert: India Leads World in HIV Cases

NEW DELHI (AP) _ India has the world's largest number of HIV-infected people, the head of a top international AIDS-fighting fund said Wednesday, dismissing official figures.

``I don't believe in the official statistics. India is already in first place,'' said Richard G.A. Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Latest U.N. data show the HIV virus has infected 5.6 million people in South Africa and 5.1 million in India. But Feachem said he and many other experts believe India's actual figure is much higher, surpassing South Africa's.

The official estimate leaves out many people in this vast country of 1.03 billion who could be carrying the virus without knowing or reporting it, he said.

``I won't put a figure on it. I will simply say it is considerably more than 5.1 million,'' he said. ``I am happy to be wrong. But I think I will proved right, soon.''

Feachem called the Indian epidemic ``on an African trajectory ... and incidence of HIV/AIDS is rising rapidly.''

Indian government officials were not immediately available for comment. New Delhi has rejected such fears in the past, saying its HIV/AIDS prevention program is making good progress and the number of new cases has stabilized.

Earlier this month, the federal health minister said he is ready to commission an independent body, including foreign agencies, to compile HIV data in India.

In recent years the government has stepped up efforts to fight the disease. Several international donor agencies are pumping millions of dollars into anti-HIV programs.

Still, the response is ``way short of what is necessary to turn around the epidemic,'' said Feachem, who was in New Delhi to discuss ways to increase the Global Fund's contribution to India's AIDS fight.

The fund has already committed $265 million in aid to the Indian government, and now plans to pledge anti-AIDS funds to corporations and nongovernment organizations.

During Feachem's three-day visit, which started Wednesday, he is to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, other officials, business leaders and advocacy groups to discuss pledging more to fighting AIDS here.
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