India Must Address AIDS Epidemic To Meet Goal of 8% Annual Economic Growth, U.N. Adviser Jeffrey Sachs SaysIndia can meet its goal of achieving 8% annual economic growth over the next five years as long as the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic does not "spin out of control," U.N. special adviser Jeffrey Sachs said yesterday during a teleconference, Reuters reports. Sachs said that while India could achieve the growth in its annual gross domestic product through social and economic reform, the Indian economy could be "severely hit" if the number of people with AIDS in the country increases to 20 million in the next 10 years, as predicted by a U.S. National Intelligence Council report released in September. Although India's GDP grew 5.4% from April 2001 to March 2002, the growth is still inadequate to eradicate poverty in the nation, Reuters reports. Sachs said he did not want to give a "specific number" as to the economic damage that could occur if the disease was left unchecked, but he added that it could "be one of the greatest calamities in history and Indian history." According to Sachs, India's AIDS risk is heightened because of the country's small public health system. Despite a government-sponsored nationwide campaign to raise AIDS awareness, "enormous" social and cultural stigma about the disease remains, according to Reuters. India currently has an estimated four million HIV/AIDS cases, the world's second largest number after South Africa (Katyal, Reuters, 11/21).
AIDS Advocates 'Slam' Cabinet Minister Over Remarks on Gates' Donation
AIDS advocates yesterday "slammed" Indian Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, a "powerful" cabinet minister, over his remarks that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates had "overdone it" with his foundation's $100 million grant to India to fight HIV/AIDS, Agence France-Presse reports (Gupta, Agence France-Presse, 11/21). On a recent trip to India, Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide a $100 million grant to help fight HIV/AIDS in the country. The grant is to be administered by Indian Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha. However, Sinha blamed Gates and U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill for "spreading panic" in India about HIV/AIDS and said that the NIC report that projects that India could have up to 25 million people with HIV/AIDS by 2010 is "completely inaccurate" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/13). Joshi, a "vocal Hindu rightwinger," joined Sinha and "turned up his nose" at Gates' gift on Tuesday, saying, "In his enthusiasm to fight out a certain menace, Gates has overdone it," Agence France-Presse reports. "It is a pity to have such ministers," I.S. Gilada, head of the People's Health Organization, said. "The government should say, 'Bill Gates, thank you, we don't want your money.' Why is it playing double games? If there isn't such a serious problem of AIDS as the government says, then it should not have accepted Gates' money," Gilada added. Anjali Gopalan, of the Delhi-based Naz Foundation, said, "It's nonsense. What [is the government] trying to prove? People are dying" (Agence France-Presse, 11/21).
Lancet, Washington Post React to Gates Foundation Donation
The Lancet and the Washington Post published editorials this week in response to the Gates Foundation donation and Gates' announcement several days later that Microsoft will invest $400 million over three years into Indian product development. Summaries of the editorials appear below:
Lancet: Gates "courted controversy" by "mixing business with philanthropy ... by publicly endorsing a U.S. government report predicting an AIDS epidemic in India," a Lancet editorial states. The "humanitarian imperative" of the HIV/AIDS crisis in India "is clear ... but so are the investment opportunities for Microsoft in India," the editorial says. However, "[p]hilanthropy and commerce can make uneasy bedfellows," the editorial concludes, adding, "By acting as spokesman both for his foundation and Microsoft, cynics may feel that Gates has distracted attention from the very problem that his foundation is, rightly, trying to address -- the impending HIV/AIDS epidemic in India" (Lancet, 11/23).
- Washington Post: Sinha's "ignorant outburst" that Gates is "spreading panic" by quoting the NIC report "shows why panic may be sane," a Washington Post editorial states. The "surest way to help the virus spread is to promote the idea that those who seek to warn against it are mere panic-spreaders" because that way "people won't alter their behavior," the editorial says. Sinha "should consider South Africa" because its leaders "ignored warnings of catastrophe going back as far as 1990," and now 20% of South African adults have HIV/AIDS, which would translate into more than 100 million infections in India if the rate was the same, the Post says. "Politicians ... must learn to appreciate Gates for his public health message, and not just because he embodies their dreams of silicon success," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 11/21).