‘Primitive’ management will ruin HIV prevention programme in India: UN envoy
New Delhi: New HIV
infections in India could rise for the first time in more than a decade because
states are mismanaging a prevention programme by delaying payments to health
workers, the United Nations envoy for AIDS in Asia and the Pacific said.
India's efforts to
fight HIV have for years centred around community-based programmes run for
people at high risk of contracting the virus, such as sex workers and injecting
drug users. The results won praise globally — annual new infections fell
consistently and, overall, were reduced by more than half between 2000 and
But Prime Minister
Narendra Modi in February cut the central AIDS budget by a fifth and asked
states to fill the gap, even though their poorly-run bureaucracies were already
slow in releasing funds to their AIDS prevention units.
As a result, staff
salaries have been delayed for months and prevention activities have slowed
down. The decision was part of a wider strategy to decentralize social spending
and focus central government resources on building roads and railways to boost
In an interview with
Reuters, the UN secretary general's special envoy for AIDS in Asia-Pacific, JVR
Prasada Rao, warned "primitive" management by states would "ruin
"When the new
infections start rising, all the good work that has been done will be washed
away," said Rao, who said he based his view on interactions with several
federal and state AIDS officials in the last six months.
Reuters reported in
March that government data and letters obtained under right to information
legislation showed state treasuries were delaying payments and thousands of
health workers had gone unpaid for months.
An official at the
federal AIDS control department, part of the health ministry that oversees the
programme, said delays in states disbursing funds were still widespread, with
payments in some cases three months late.
The AIDS control
department official said there was a risk of a rise in new infections if the
delays continue, but added such a scenario was at least a year away. The health
ministry did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment on Rao's remarks.