Gates' foundation pledges $100 m for India AIDS campaign
From Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, Nov 11 (IANS) Microsoft chief Bill Gates Monday announced $100
million from his foundation to battle HIV/AIDS in India, asserting the row
over the number of victims should not detract from the enormity of the
"We do not really know the number of HIV/AIDS victims in India but the
sooner we bring attention to the problem and greater visibility, the better
we can face it," Gates told a press conference here.
"There is no doubt that India faces a serious challenge."
On a four-day visit to India, Gates said AIDS was a growing crisis around
the world and in some countries, 25 percent of the adult population were
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed an initial support of
$100 million to slow down the spread of the dreaded virus in India, he said,
the largest the organisation had funded in a single country.
The software czar was responding to a question about the projections by him
and U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill about the extent of the disease in
India that reportedly annoyed Indian authorities, especially Health Minister
New Delhi asserted that Blackwill's projection that India would have 25
million HIV victims by 2010 was exaggerated.
Denying being a part of any study projecting these numbers or of trying to
spread panic, Gates, who met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the
afternoon, said he hoped the numbers were not very high.
"So far, in the history of AIDS, every estimate of the spread of the disease
has been low. My point is that numbers should not be the focus."
But toning down the loud alarm he sounded in the run-up to his four-day
visit to India, Gates maintained Monday that the disease was at a
"relatively lower level" and early stages.
While India had launched many initiatives against AIDS, a lot still needed
to be done, he observed.
"India can not only address its own challenges and save millions of lives,
but also help other developing countries with emerging epidemics.
"India is poised to be a global leader in the development of new HIV
Gates said his foundation would work in collaboration with the federal
government, mainly focusing on two aspects of the anti-AIDS campaign - the
mobile population most prone to contracting and spreading the disease and
communication and advocacy efforts to raise awareness.
Truck drivers, migrant labourers, construction workers and their partners,
who are said to be more vulnerable to the disease, were a special focus of
the initiative, which would be steered by minister Sinha.
But the Microsoft head hastened to explain that this was not to generate or
spread damning stereotypes about certain sections of the population.
"It is everyone's problem and no one should have the impression that only a
particular section should respond to programmes against AIDS. It is
important that people with the disease are not treated in a discriminatory
way or stigmatised."
Was it difficult convincing the government about the extent of the AIDS
challenge it faced?
"I think it is a problem that you almost cannot talk too much about. It is
worth reminding each other about the importance of fighting AIDS all the
time and we should all carry it on our minds."
India has some four million AIDS patients at present, while global
projections indicate 45 million new infections in the next eight years.
Said Helena Gayle, the chief of the Gates' foundation's AIDS and TB
programme: "An estimated 28 million of the new infections can be prevented
if existing HIV prevention strategies are scaled up and new prevention
technologies are created.
"That precisely is the focus of our effort in India."
Gates, known as the world's richest man, is visiting India for the third
time as he discusses health and IT programmes.
He will visit Bangalore, a Microsoft development centre in Hyderabad and
address businessmen in Mumbai. Microsoft has had a presence in India since
1987, with offices in five Indian cities including Bangalore.
--Indo-Asian News Service