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Indian HIV patients unite to battle fake AIDS cures

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A network of HIV-positive people in India has launched a national campaign against thousands of illegal backstreet clinics and quacks who cheat patients with the promise of curing AIDS.

Participants light candles during an HIV/AIDS candlelight vigil in New Delhi May 20, 2007. A network of HIV-positive people in India has launched a national campaign against thousands of illegal backstreet clinics and quacks who cheat patients with the promise of curing AIDS REUTERS/Tanushree Punwani

Patients often end up going to quacks and witch doctors who use fake herbal, homeopathic and drug treatments because the government health system is widely seen as offering poor treatment while private care is costly.

Health experts say discrimination against infected patients at hospitals as well as social stigmas also force HIV-infected people to turn to quacks who advertise in newspapers and through posters, fliers and graffiti.

“The quacks are not only a stumbling block in the fight against AIDS but also they cheat unsuspecting patients, often poor and uneducated,” said Shabana Patel, a representative of the Indian Network of People Living With HIV and Aids in the western state of Maharashtra.

The network of people who are HIV-positive or living with AIDS has chapters in almost every Indian state and thousands of members.

India has the world’s highest number of HIV-positive cases with an estimated 5.7 million people infected, according to the United Nations. But only around 100,000 people get treatment.

Quacks step in to fill some of that gap.

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Estimates vary on how much a quack charges for “curing” AIDS, but anti-quackery campaigner Nayna Raut says it could be more than $3,000 a year per patient, a fortune for India’s poor.

“They don’t even do a blood test. Just on the basis of some fake clinical diagnosis they prescribe their miracle cure for AIDS,” Raut said.

Patel’s group received more than 100 complaints in April from HIV-positive patients who said they had been cheated by quacks.

India has approved a plan that envisages spending around $2.8 billion over the next five years for AIDS prevention and increasing the number of people on first-line AIDS drugs.

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