Inter Press Service (10.24.03) - Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The pledge of $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation to help India fight HIV/AIDS will center on
prevention, and none of the money will go towards the
antiretroviral drugs that activists say could help alleviate
the suffering of the 4 million people living with the virus.
"The Indian government cannot afford to provide antiretroviral
treatment to those already suffering or even subsidize it,"
said Prasada Rao, secretary in Union Health Ministry. "The
overall goal is to decrease the prevalence of HIV in high-risk
groups and stabilize it in the general population by 2008,"
said Rao, former director of the National AIDS Control
But those caring for HIV patients say the money could greatly
extend the lifespans of those already suffering. "It is time
that the Indian government moves out of its preventive
approach and helps hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive
people rather than leave them to die," said Shruti Pandey, an
activist with the Human Rights Law Network.
According to Helene Gayle, director of the HIV/AIDS, TB and
reproductive health program at the Gates Foundation, India has
a "very small window of opportunity within which to control
the HIV/AIDS epidemic." Gayle estimates that infection levels
could be rising by as much as 20 percent per year.
The Indian government spends less than $1 per person on
HIV/AIDS treatment and less than $12 overall per capita on
health care. Estimates by the Lawyers Collective's HIV/AIDS
unit have placed the annual cost of antiretroviral treatment
at $1,000 per head, exclusive of the costs of needed changes
to the ailing public health delivery system.
Ironically, Indian pharmaceutical firms like Cipla and Ranbaxy
are poised to provide generic triple-drug cocktail regimens at
less than 40 cents a day per person to several African and
Caribbean countries under a William J. Clinton Presidential
Less than 10 percent of the 300-odd patients at the Naz Care
Home, one of New Delhi's four voluntary institutions providing
HIV care, have had antiretroviral treatment, said its
coordinator Irfan Khan. Most just cannot afford treatment -
even at 40 cents per day, said Khan.