The government Tuesday told the Supreme Court that there were four lakh men who have sex with men (MSM) in India and face a high risk of AIDS. A rough estimate of high-risk MSM who could be infected with HIV was between 28,000-31,000, the health and family welfare ministry told the court.
MSM are at a higher risk of contracting AIDS and other STDs because of lack of awareness about the need to use protection. The incidence of HIV among female sex workers is 4.60-4.94 per cent and among MSM it is 6.54-7.23 per cent. Drug addicts are highest HIV risk group (9.42-10.30 per cent).
In an affidavit before an apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, the ministry said the four lakh men needed to be reached under the targeted intervention of the National AIDS Control Programme. ”As on date, the programme has reached 2.7 lakh high risk MSM though the targeted intervention projects and the efforts are underway to reach the remaining,” said Sayan Chatterjee, secretary, department of AIDS control.
The affidavit said “6.54 to 7.23 percent of the high risk MSM are likely to be infected with the HIV, a rough estimate of high risk MSM who could be infected with HIV is between 28,000 and 31,000″. The apex court was told this in the course of a hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the Delhi High Court verdict of July 2, 2009, by which it had decriminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private. The government told the apex court that the total number of HIV infected people in India in the age group of 15-49, based on 2009 estimation, stood at 20 lakhs.
The court was also told that there were one lakh HIV infected people below the age of 15 and another three lakh above the age of 49.
“The HIV estimates for 2009 highlight an overall reduction of HIV prevalence, HIV incidence (new infections) as well as deaths due to AIDS related causes. The estimated new annual HIV infections have declined by 56 percent during the last decade from 2.7 lakh in 2000 to 1.2 lakh in 2009,” the affidavit said.
While frowning on the government’s shifting stands on the issue of decriminalising gay sex, the court noted that the union cabinet had said that Attorney General G. Vahanvati would assist the apex court in arriving at an opinion on the correctness of the high court judgment. Appearing for the parents of gay children, senior counsel Fali Nariman mocked at the provisions of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code saying that if it was implemented stringently then even what a husband and wife do privately would come under its ambit.
Nariman told the court that when Indian Penal Code was written there was no constitution on the provisions of which it could have been weighed but now we had a constitution. The argument by counsel for Naz Foundation, backing the high court judgment, will continue Wednesday.