In 2002, experts projected that the HIV epidemic in India could grow to staggering proportions, with more cases than in any other country. Given this dire prospect, we made our first investment in India that year: a US$200 million grant for an HIV prevention program called Avahan that was launched in partnership with community-based organizations and nongovernmental organizations.
Avahan focuses on sex workers and other high-risk populations in six states with the highest HIV infection rates. Since its launch, HIV infection rates in India have decreased dramatically. Over the years, the government has taken ownership of the program, as planned, and our efforts are now increasingly focused on working with vulnerable communities to expand services.
Avahan is one of the great success stories in national-level response to HIV. While HIV continues to be a challenge for the country, new cases have fallen to about 86,000 per year. The success of the Avahan partnership has led the foundation to collaborate in similar ways with Indian partners in other areas of health and development.
India’s certification as a polio-free country in March 2014 marked a major milestone on the path to global polio eradication. India was long considered the most difficult place to end polio due to its population density, high rates of migration, poor sanitation, high birth rates, and low rates of routine immunization. Huge numbers of unvaccinated children lived in crowded slums and remote rural areas. As recently as 2009, India was home to 50 percent of the world’s polio cases.
But the Indian government—with support from international partners, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, Rotary International, and our foundation—rolled out a carefully coordinated polio campaign that sent out millions of volunteer vaccination teams to reach 170 million children each year with repeated doses of oral polio vaccine.
In 2011, the last case of polio was reported in India. In 2014, the country was officially declared polio-free, putting the world on course to completely wipe out polio within the next few years.