UNAIDS chief meets top officials in India's northeast to discuss AIDS prevention

The chief of the United Nations AIDS prevention program was meeting the elected heads of India's remote northeastern states on Saturday to discuss ways to combat the disease in the region, where heroin abuse and sharing of needles among intravenous drug addicts is high.

UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said he planned to meet lawmakers and chief ministers from seven northeastern Indian states to discuss how the U.N. agency could help them fight AIDS. Piot arrived Friday in Gauhati, the capital of Assam, the biggest of the seven states.

The visit follows an announcement by Australia that it will provide 10 million Australian dollars (US$8 million; Ђ6.5 million) through UNAIDS for HIV prevention work in India's northeast.

According to government estimates, India has more than 5 million HIV-infected people and prevalence of the disease is considered high in two of the northeastern states _ Manipur and Nagaland.

The sparsely populated northeast region is estimated to have about 100,000 HIV-infected people, and experts say the disease is rapidly spreading because of its proximity to heroin-producing areas of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Drug abuse is widespread in areas that share a porous border with Myanmar. Most HIV infections in the region are caused by sharing needles among intravenous drug addicts.

"The challenge in the region is very big and intensive intervention is needed," Piot said in brief remarks after visiting an anti-AIDS center in Gauhati, AP reported. V.A.