The children all suffer from thalassaemia (a group of inherited blood disorders which affect the body’s ability to create red blood cells) and received treatment at a state hospital in the Junagadh district. The HIV infections amongst the children were discovered by routine tests. Medical officials at the hospital have denied the children could have been infected by its supplies of blood, but state authorities have launched an investigation.
It is possible the children in Gujarat could have been infected by contaminated blood from outside state facilities. However, the parents involved are adamant that their children only ever had transfusions from the government-run hospital in Junagadh. “We have never gone anywhere else,” insisted the father of one child in an interview with The Indian Express.
Over the last ten years, new HIV infections have decreased by more than 50 per cent in India. Yet because of the country’s sheer size, there are still an estimated 2.3 million adults (aged 15 and above) and around 100,000 children living with HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS 2009 data). The three states of Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are believed to account for around a fifth of India’s infections. The vast majority of new infections are acquired through unprotected sex, but in some states, contaminated injecting equipment among drug users is a key cause of infection.
Wider access to services preventing mother-to-child transmission has led to a significant drop in new HIV infections among children. In 2009, an estimated 22,000 children aged up to 14 years became infected with the disease, which represented a drop of 15 per cent from a decade ago. AIDS-related deaths among children have also declined, from 18,000 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2009.
HIV treatment services could however be improved and may benefit from newly announced plans by India’s government to more than double the country’s health budget over the next five years. Currently, half of India’s population are unable to afford health care. A committee set up by the government is also expected to put forward proposals on universal health insurance. Though insurance payments are likely to be linked to income levels, the state may pay premiums for Indians living below the poverty line. With high levels of poverty, this would be a huge financial commitment and further stretch government finances. However, it would be a popular policy with Indians as the government faces elections in five states next year.