University of Manitoba HIV/AIDS Program in India To Lose Annual Aid
A program run by the University of Manitoba in Canada aimed at fighting the spread of HIV in India is expected to lose its annual funding by March 2006 because of "political wrangling" between the Indian and Canadian governments, the Winnipeg Free Press reports (Lett, Winnipeg Free Press, 1/10). The university has been working on a collaborative project with the government of the Indian province of Karnataka, where 500,000 of its 55 million people -- about 1.7% of the province's population -- are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/6/04). However, the University of Manitoba project is one of "several dozen bilateral aid projects" that have been canceled by the Canadian International Development Agency following a decision in early 2004 by the Indian government to accept bilateral donations only from a list of six donors -- including the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Russia and Germany, according to the Free Press. However, following India's national elections in May 2004, the government reinstated Canada to the list as long as the country made a minimum annual contribution of $25 million to the project. CIDA declined to reinstate the bilateral aid and also said that it would not be able to provide money directly to the University of Manitoba or other nongovernmental organizations for projects in India, according to James Blanchard, director of the university's project in India. Approximately $25.3 million in aid to India will be eliminated by March 2006.
CIDA's decision has "drawn concern," as India is "considered one of the most pressing battlegrounds in the global fight" against HIV/AIDS, according to the Free Press. While India's HIV prevalence is "just under" 1%, the "sheer size" of the country's population -- 1.1 billion people -- has "experts scrambling to halt the spread of the disease," the Free Press reports. Some Indian states have prevalence rates as high at 5% of the adult population, according to Blanchard. "If we have to pull the plug here, it will be like going back to the drawing board," Blanchard said, adding that finding new funding could take years and he does not "think that is something that people here can afford" (Winnipeg Free Press, 1/10). Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the University of Manitoba a $17 million grant to expand its HIV/AIDS programs in India, while the Transport Corporation of India Foundation and Population Services International will share an additional $8 million Gates grant as project partners with the university. The groups would work in collaboration with the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society to offer HIV prevention programs to high-risk populations. With the grant, the university and its partners will provide HIV/AIDS counseling and testing, behavior-change communication campaigns, condom promotion, and improved diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/6). Despite the Gates Foundation grant, it will be "difficult to convince private benefactors to get on board" without the support from the Canadian government, Blanchard said, according to the Free Press. "We are battling an epidemic at an earlier stage here," he said, adding, "Without this work, the [prevalence] rate could double, and that would be catastrophic" (Winnipeg Free Press, 1/10).