Gates Foundation Announces Additional $100 Million Grant To Fight HIV/AIDS in India
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday announced it will double its funding for fighting HIV/AIDS in India to $200 million and disbursed the first round of grants to organizations addressing HIV among high-risk groups in India, the Wall Street Journal reports (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 10/14). Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in November 2002 announced that his foundation would provide a $100 million grant to help fight HIV/AIDS in India. The foundation expects that the grant, which is known as the India AIDS Initiative, will help to fund condom distribution, treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases and high-profile HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns featuring celebrities and local leaders, efforts that have been successful in other countries. Gates said that the funds will also be used to reduce the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in India, which has led to the refusal of medical treatment or housing for some HIV-positive people, according to Indian AIDS advocates (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/11/02). Helene Gayle, director of HIV, tuberculosis and reproductive health for the Gates Foundation, announced the new grant on Monday at a conference in New Delhi, India, on how businesses can assist India in fighting the spread of HIV. According to Gayle, the $200 million combined grant is the largest single commitment by the Gates Foundation to any AIDS-related initiative worldwide (AP/Wichita Eagle, 10/13).
The foundation also announced its first $67.5 million in India AIDS Initiative grants, which will be put to use on projects beginning next week, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 10/13). The new grants aim to reduce HIV prevalence among high-risk groups and stabilize the disease among the country's general population by 2008, Prasada Rao, co-chair of the board of the India AIDS Initiative, said (Wall Street Journal, 10/14). The five-year grants will go to seven organizations in India working to reduce HIV transmission among 300,000 commercial sex workers and 4.5 million sex industry clients, including truck drivers, along the country's 4,400 miles of major highways. The organizations will provide condoms, as well as voluntary testing, counseling and care for STDs (Sharma, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/14). The grants will also support comprehensive HIV prevention services among high-risk populations, including sex workers and their clients, injection drug users and others, in six Indian states with high HIV prevalence (Wall Street Journal, 10/14). India is reaching a "critical juncture," with HIV prevalence rising by as much as 20% each year, Gayle said, adding, "We only have a small window of opportunity to prevent a widespread epidemic" (Agence France-Presse, 10/13).
Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry S.B. Mookherjee on Monday asked India's business community to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Xinhua News Agency reports. Mookherjee, speaking during the "Accelerating the Business Response to HIV/AIDS: Partnerships and Action" conference, which was jointly organized by the Indian Business Trust for HIV/AIDS and the Confederation for Indian Industry, said that a large percentage of HIV-positive Indians are between the "economically productive" ages of 15 and 44. "This can have a severe impact on the corporates. On the one hand, their productivity will be affected and the costs relating to training and recruitment [and] health care of its affected employees will increase, morale among the workforce will decline," Mookherjee said (Xinhua News Agency, 10/13). Mookherjee called on corporations to offer antiretroviral therapy to their employees (Singh, Business Standard, 10/14). Richard Holbrooke, head of the Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS, said during the conference that India must educate its one billion residents about HIV/AIDS, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Education "means talking about sex and intimacy. ... [I]f you don't do it, millions of people will be infected and every infected person will die, even with treatment," Holbrooke said (Sharma, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/13). Ratan Tata, chair of industry conglomerate Tata Sons and head of the Indian Business Trust for HIV/AIDS, said that India's business community "has not been as forthcoming as it should be" about HIV/AIDS and should commit to increasing AIDS awareness and removing the stigma associated with the disease (Hindu Business Line, 10/14). India's government estimates that about eight million residents -- less than 1% of its population -- are HIV-positive, but some experts say that figure is an underestimate. Ben Plumley, chief of staff of UNAIDS, and other experts said India's government, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, workers, trade unions, donors and international organizations should join together to combat the spread of the virus (Sharma, Associated Press, 10/13).
Generic Drug Companies
India's National AIDS Control Organization on Monday asked Indian generic drug makers to cut the price of their antiretroviral drugs, the Hindustan Times reports. While there are no official estimates of the number of people on antiretroviral therapy in India, the country's drug industry estimates that there are 5,000 people who are currently taking the drugs (Sharma, Hindustan Times, 10/14). Domestic drug companies, including Cipla, already offer an antiretroviral regimen for less than $1 a day per person, but experts say that the cost is still too high for most patients and for the country's "cash-strapped" public health system, according to Reuters. "We appeal to the drug industry to consider bringing about a further reduction in prices for antiretrovirals in exchange for higher sales in the country through the national public health system," Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, a senior Ministry of Health & Family Welfare official, said (Reuters, 10/13). Dr. Y. K. Hamied, chair and managing director of Cipla, said that if the government expects companies to reduce the price of the drugs, "they should reciprocate by removing the 35% import duties on raw materials and reagents used to make generic ARVs and also the 8% sales tax on these medicines." In addition, unless something is done to address the high cost of blood tests, "antiretrovirals will continue to elude people in India," M. K. Hamied, joint managing director and head of marketing at Cipla, said (Hindustan Times, 10/14).
Indian Phase I Vaccine Trial
India's National AIDS Research Institute will begin the nation's first Phase I clinical trial of a modified vaccinia ankara-HIV subtype C vaccine later this year or early next year, the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies reports (Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies, 10/12). The trial will be conducted at NARI under a joint agreement among NACO, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The trial, which will last two years and include 13 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 50, will determine the efficacy, safety, dose requirements and schedules for immunizations. The Union Government will control the use of the vaccine, which was developed by Therion, if trials are successful, according to the Hindu (Hindu, 10/12). In addition, if the trials are successful, NACO would transfer the vaccine technology to one of three short-listed companies for mass manufacture (Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies, 10/12). N.K. Ganguli, director-general of the ICMR, on Friday said he expects ethical and regulatory clearances and preclinical studies will be completed before March 2004, the Hindu reports (Hindu, 10/12).
Holbrooke is scheduled to discuss HIV/AIDS in India in an online chat on washingtonpost.com at 11:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. A transcript of the chat will be available online after the discussion. Questions and comments may be submitted prior to the beginning of the chat.
A webcast of the Asia Society's "AIDS in Asia: Leadership Initiatives in India" conference will be available online after 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The society is launching AIDS in Asia, a new initiative funded by the Gates Foundation, with a simultaneous discussion between leaders in India and New York to discuss new initiatives in the fight against HIV/AIDS, by using India as an example.
More information on HIV/AIDS in India is available online as part of kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.