The  National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) said some 4.58 million Indians were infected with the deadly virus by the end of 2002, a significant increase from 3.97 million in the previous year.

“At the upper level, 4.58 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the country, according to our latest survey,” NACO project director, Meenakshi Datta Ghosh said.

The survey has brought home very disturbing trends.

“HIV/AIDS in India is not only confined to high-risk groups and in cities, but is gradually spreading into rural areas and the general population,” Datta Ghosh said.

Pregnant women accounted for one percent of the total infections.

South Africa with an infected population of around five million and a total population of about 42 million, has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

'At the upper level, 4.58 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the country, according to our latest survey'           --Indian official

India’s  population on the contrary is over one billion.

On a visit to New Delhi, United Nation’s top official on AIDS, Peter Piot stressed the need for the urgent implementation of prevention programmes.

“As HIV prevalence continues to rise in some Indian states, the challenge now is to rapidly scale up AIDS prevention programmes nationwide, make them sustainable and ensure that AIDS treatment is widely accessible to people living with HIV/AIDS,” Piot said.

Piot is in the Indian capital to attend a two-day conference on the emerging crisis, beginning Saturday.