Economist Examines Impact of AIDS Prevention, Treatment Programs in India
India seems to be "doing the right things" in the fight against AIDS, the Economist reports in a profile of the country's epidemic. India in July 2003 held a parliamentary forum on the disease, and the government in November 2003 announced it would begin providing antiretroviral drugs to a limited number of people. The government also has promised to enact antidiscrimination laws and spend public funds to fight the disease. Some government officials have begun to take action, according to the Economist. For example, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 began requiring all ministers to mention AIDS in their speeches, promised to provide antiretroviral drugs, pressed for all advertisements to include information about the disease and asked that condoms be made available at public functions and any place that sells alcohol. In addition, funding for HIV/AIDS-related prevention and treatment programs has been "piling into India," including a "big boost" in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the Economist. The media also is playing a role in AIDS education. Star television, an Indian network that reaches 64 million people each week, in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Gere Foundation's India trust, plans to donate $4.65 million in airtime each year for three years for public service announcements on AIDS. The BBC World Service Trust has been running a similar campaign in India since 2002 that has aired more than 1,000 broadcasts, including a reality show, radio phone-in program and interactive drama. The country also has several education programs aimed at high-risk groups, including sex workers, injection drugs users, men who have sex with men and long-distance truck drivers, according to the Economist.
However, these efforts "see[m] almost pathetically inadequate to the task," considering the "magnitude of the problem," the Economist reports. The fight against AIDS has been "hampered" by the illegality of commercial sex work and homosexuality, gender inequality, the stigma attached to the disease and the relative inactivity of Indian businesses, according to the Economist. In addition, "[h]ealth is not a high priority for Indian governments," as most of the country's AIDS-related programs are being run by nongovernmental organizations, the Economist reports. Health ministers "come and go with some frequency," and the National AIDS Control Organisation has been led by six different people in 12 years, according to the Economist. In addition, although the government has said it will provide some antiretroviral drugs, it has not accepted offers for low-price or free drugs from the country's "highly successful" generic drug companies, according to the Economist. "Against such a background, forecasts of millions more infections seem horribly plausible," but "[i]t is not yet too late," the Economist reports (Economist, 4/17).
India needs more money and increased political commitment in the fight against AIDS, an accompanying Economist editorial says, adding that if HIV spreads into the general population, "the world would have a new pandemic of hideous proportions." Although "[o]n the face of it" the money problem has been "eased" by donations from the World Bank, bilateral donors and other organizations, the government itself has spent "next to nothing," the editorial says. The lack of government spending on AIDS "reflects the country's undoubted poverty" and the "low priority that the government gives to health in general and AIDS in particular," the editorial says. However, many Indians are "doing their best to battle AIDS," and the country has the advantage of its "vast information technology industry, ... health management companies and drug makers," which could provide testing and treatment on a "huge -- and as yet unexploited -- scale," the Economist says. If the country is to succeed, leaders must confront the disease and commit public money, the editorial says, concluding that the country "cannot afford the alternative" (Economist, 4/17).
Additional information on HIV/AIDS in India is available online at kaisernetwork.org, including a video feature on India and facts about the epidemic in India with links to other sources of information.