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UN Says HIV-AIDS Could Slow India's Economic Growth


A new U.N. report in India has warned that the country's booming economic growth could slow if HIV-AIDS continues to spread unchecked. The United Nations says 5.7 million people are infected with HIV in India - the largest number in any country in the world.

The report says the potential economic costs of HIV-AIDS in India could be huge, cutting economic growth by close to one percent over the next 10 to 15 years. India's economy has been growing at nearly eight percent in recent years.

The study was done jointly by the United Nations Development Program and India's National Council of Applied Economic Research - a body funded by the Indian government.

Despite the large number of HIV-AIDS sufferers in India, they are still a small percentage of the overall population. But the author of the report, Suman Bery, says the numbers will become large enough to affect India's labor supply and productivity, if the disease continues to spread unchecked.

"Even for a giant country like India, which currently has low prevalence, it could end up being significant in affecting the overall growth rate," said Bery. "The reason it has this impact is that this is a disease that affects people in their prime working age, and even though India has lots and lots of people at the skilled and semi-skilled level, that sort of loss in the labor force can have an aggregate impact."

The report says the increase in spending on health by both individuals and government will result in a decline in savings, slowing growth and investment.

But the government agency in charge of halting the spread of HIV-AIDS, the National Aids Control Agency, says the findings of the report represent a worst-case scenario. Sujata Rao, the head of the agency, says efforts are in progress to cut transmission of HIV in the country's worst-hit areas by targeting groups most affected by the disease: sex workers and migrant laborers.

"It is not difficult. They are getting empowered. They are getting to understand, after all they also love their lives," said Rao. "If we really have a saturation strategy in place in the next five years, I am positive we will make an impact."

The agency is also backing demands for homosexuality to be legalized. Volunteer groups argue current laws drive homosexuals - a high-risk group - underground, making it difficult to reach them with AIDS-prevention campaigns. A local AIDS charity has petitioned a court to throw out the law making homosexuality illegal.