Bill Gates Announces $100 Million Grant to Fight HIV/AIDS in India
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates today, at the start of a four-day trip to India, announced a $100 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to help fight HIV/AIDS in India, Reuters reports. The grant, which is known as the India AIDS Initiative and which will be administered by Indian Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha and a board of business, medical and non-governmental leaders who have not yet been named, will be used to increase access to HIV prevention education for India's transient population, including migrant workers and truck drivers (Reuters, 11/11). The foundation anticipates that the grant will fund condom distribution, treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases and "high-profile" HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns featuring celebrities and local leaders, efforts that have been successful in other countries (Bank, Wall Street Journal, 11/11). Gates said that the funds will also be used to reduce the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in India, which has led to the refusal of medical treatment or housing for some HIV-positive people, according to Indian AIDS advocates (Reuters, 11/11). Gates added that the foundation's initiatives were meant to "complement" India's National AIDS Control Program and that the foundation would partner with the Indian government and other Indian organizations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the foundation hopes to fight aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that are "difficult" for the government to address, including programs for men who have sex with men and for individuals involved in the country's "thriving commercial sex industry." The first installment of the grant, which is the largest single-country grant awarded by the foundation so far and for which there is no timeframe for spending, is set to be awarded early next year (Wall Street Journal, 11/11).
Controversy Over Scale of Epidemic
Gates' announcement came amid controversy about the scale of India's HIV/AIDS problem (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/11). Sinha on Saturday blamed Gates and U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill for "spreading panic" in India about HIV/AIDS, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 11/9). Blackwill last week said that India could soon have the highest HIV-positive population in the world, and both Gates and Blackwill have cited a recent U.S. National Intelligence Council report stating that the number of people with HIV/AIDS in India could rise to 25 million by 2010 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/8). Sinha rejected the report and called its projections "completely inaccurate" (Xinhua News, 11/9). He said he was "aware" of the HIV/AIDS situation in India, adding that the situation "does concern me personally." According to the Indian Express, Sinha may "show his anger at the vocal international concern over India's AIDS epidemic" by refusing to meet with Gates when he is in India (Agence France-Presse, 11/9). However, Sinha has already agreed to chair the board overseeing the Gates Foundation grant, according to Gates (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/11). In addition, Jack India, an Indian non-governmental organization, has requested "details" about the U.S. report and has alleged that Gates funded the report "with a purpose of commercial exploitation of Indian people by creating markets for AIDS drugs and vaccines in the country" (Xinhua News, 11/9). Gates said that no one was sure exactly how many HIV-positive people are in India but added that HIV/AIDS estimates historically have been low (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/11). "HIV/AIDS is at a relatively low level in India, and experience shows that countries that act at an early stage can prevent the disease from becoming widespread," Gates said, adding, "The India AIDS Initiative marks a long-term commitment by the foundation to support India's efforts to contain further spread of the disease" (Gates Foundation release, 11/11). Approximately four million Indians are HIV-positive, according to official figures (Reuters, 11/11).
India 'Cannot Face Challenge' Alone, Gates Says
There is still time to prevent a "widespread AIDS epidemic" in India, but the nation "cannot face the challenge" by itself, Gates writes in a New York Times opinion piece. Although India's HIV infection rate is low, with less than 1% of the adult population infected with HIV, four million Indians are currently HIV-positive, Gates writes, adding that India, which has "vast human resources" and a "burgeoning pharmaceutical industry," could be "one of the developing nations best positioned to contain the epidemic and offer global leadership in confronting AIDS." If India develops HIV prevention programs and continues to help develop microbicides, HIV treatments and potential HIV vaccines, it could "make a significant contribution" to the fight against HIV/AIDS "well beyond its borders." In order for this to happen, wealthy countries, businesses and philanthropists must commit resources to such programs in India, Gates writes. "India can either be the home of the world's largest and most devastating AIDS epidemic -- or, with the support of the rest of the world, it can become the best example of how this virus can be defeated," Gates concludes (Gates, New York Times, 11/9).
New York Times Examines HIV/AIDS Treatment in India
The New York Times today profiles the search for a "workable strategy" to treat those Indians who are already HIV-positive. Indian health and government officials who operate "in a nation of limited resources, but where government is committed to providing basic medical care," must ask themselves "what kind of investment can and should be made in caring for people who are already infected?" Even those programs which previously were committed primarily to preventing HIV infection are now advocating for a better health infrastructure to provide care for India's HIV-positive population (Waldman, New York Times, 11/11). The full article is available online.