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NEW DELHI -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today an initial $100 million commitment to support an initiative to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in India. The new effort, the India AIDS Initiative, will expand access to proven HIV prevention interventions among mobile populations. The initiative will also work to combat societal stigma surrounding the disease and increase awareness and leadership on HIV/AIDS through a nation-wide communication and advocacy effort.
The announcement was made at an event in New Delhi attended by Bill Gates and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), people living with HIV/AIDS, industry associations, employers of mobile populations and the media.
Mobile populations, which include truck drivers, migrant laborers, construction workers and their sexual partners, are more vulnerable to HIV and are a key group to reach to prevent the spread of HIV into the general population. Currently few HIV prevention programs in India address populations that frequently cross state borders.
Gates emphasized that the initiative will complement the Government of India's National AIDS Control Program and the work of government ministries including Health and Family Welfare, Railways and Labour. The Honorable Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri Shatrughan Sinha, has accepted the position as chairperson of the program board that will help guide the efforts of this initiative. The full board, to be named at a later date, will include two additional Indian government officials as well as representatives from the business, medical and NGO community.
"HIV/AIDS is at a relatively low level in India, and experience shows that countries that act at an early stage can prevent the disease from becoming widespread," said Gates. "The India AIDS Initiative marks a long-term commitment by the foundation to support India's efforts to contain further spread of the disease."
The foundation also named Ashok Alexander as director of the new initiative. Alexander will coordinate the activities of the initiative in India, working closely with central and state governments, NGOs and the private sector. Previously, Alexander worked at McKinsey and Company as a senior partner and directed their New Delhi office.
Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is traveling in India this week in part to learn about the country's HIV/AIDS situation and to meet with Indian officials working on efforts to combat the disease. Experts predict that HIV infections in India could increase sharply if prevention strategies are not more widely implemented, which could have devastating effects on the country's health, economic, and social systems.
Earlier today Gates visited the Naz Foundation India Trust where he met with people living with HIV/AIDS and learned about a number of services the organization provides, including voluntary counseling and testing, care for those infected and outreach training for regional community organizations.
"International projections indicate 45 million new HIV infections worldwide between now and 2010, but those projections are in no way inevitable," said Dr. Helene Gayle, former director of the Gates Foundation's HIV/AIDS and TB program and is part of the traveling delegation. Dr. Gayle also co-chairs the Global HIV Prevention Working Group, which issued its blueprint for action in July at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.
"An estimated 28 million of these new global infections could be prevented if existing HIV prevention strategies were scaled up and if new prevention technologies were created. That is precisely the focus of our effort in India, and the progress made here could have a profound impact on India and around the world."
During the visit, Gates also talked about the potential for India to be a leader in world's fight against AIDS. "India is uniquely positioned to not only address its own HIV/AIDS challenges and save millions of lives, but also help other developing countries with emerging epidemics," said Gates. "With some of the best research capabilities anywhere, India is poised to be a global leader in the development of new HIV prevention technologies."
On Thursday, Gates will visit sites in conjunction with the foundation's $25 million grant to the Partnership Project in Andhra Pradesh. The project is jointly run by the Children's Vaccine Program at PATH (Program for Appropriate Technologies in Health) and the Government of Andhra Pradesh and is working in the state to increase hepatitis B vaccine coverage and strengthen the overall infant immunization program.
The foundation's Global Health Program is focused on reducing global health inequities by accelerating the development, deployment, and sustainability of health interventions that will save lives and dramatically reduce the disease burden in developing countries.
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