Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Nov 12, 2002
Industry & Economy - Health
Gates opens $100-m AIDS window
P.T. Jyothi Datta
Mr Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft, with an HIV positive patient, Mr Naveen Kumar, and other NGO volunteers at the Naz Foundation centre in the Capital on Monday.
NEW DELHI, Nov. 11
VERMILION on his forehead, sitting cross-legged on a mattress and talking to HIV-infected people it was a different avatar of Mr Bill Gates, indeed!
Far from the hurly-burly of the anti-trust case in the US or the billion dollar concerns of the info-tech sector , Mr Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on Monday pledged $100 million towards an India AIDS initiative, "the largest initiative from the foundation focussed on a single country".
With an itinerary cloaked in secrecy till the eleventh hour, Mr Gates packed the first of his four-day visit to India with a slew of high-profile meetings. From meeting the Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, in the morning to a dinner meeting later at night with the Health Minister, Mr Shatrughan Sinha, AIDS, it seems, took up a larger chunk of Mr Gates' Day 1.
But one of his most significant meetings during the day was a visit to the Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Naz Foundation India Trust, where he interacted with HIV/AIDS-affected people and other representatives working in the segment. "AIDS is at an early stage here and the Foundation looks to limit the growth of the disease and make India an example for the entire world," he later told mediapersons.
Mr Gates' commitment on AIDS comes at a time when questions are being raised on the official estimates on HIV/AIDS in the country. Official figures put the incidence at four million, even as a CIA report some months ago said India would touch 20 to 25 million HIV-affected by 2010. While these figures have been rubbished by none other than the Health Minister, Mr Gates himself steered clear of controversy.
"The Gates Foundation was not involved in that study. But the history of such studies has revealed that every estimate was seen to be low. My point is not on the numbers. The problem is a serious challenge and the sooner it is addressed, the better," he said.
He lauded the advances in medical sciences in India, but added that at present, pharmaceutical companies were not part of the AIDS initiative here.
Against the backdrop of employees being sacked by companies for being HIV-positive, he said: "It is important that companies adopt policies that do not discriminate against people with HIV. Companies need to show leadership in this respect. Maybe Microsoft will be a model in this regard." While the Gates Foundation was supportive of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, of which India is a part, he clarified that it was not part of the clinical trials. "But I do think there is a need to be ethical in clinical trials," he said.
GATES Foundation representatives told Business Line that modalities to operationalise the fund were being worked out and partners being identified.
All efforts by the Foundation, headed by Mr Ashok Alexander in India, would be in tandem with the Government and the National AIDS Control Organisation, they said. Mr Alexander was earlier senior partner, McKinsey, and directed its Delhi office.
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