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Indian Prime Minister Calls for "Undelayed Response" to HIV/AIDS at Indian AIDS Convention

July 28, 2003

Speaking at India's National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV/AIDS, the country's first national conference on the disease, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Saturday called for an "undelayed response" in fighting the epidemic and an "openness and a complete absence of prejudice toward affected persons," Reuters/New York Times reports. He said, "HIV/AIDS is not only a grave global challenge. It is equally a national concern" (Reuters/New York Times, 7/27). Vajpayee called for a greater political commitment to the fight against AIDS, saying, "It requires leadership that is ready to go to the heart of the problem and is ready even to go against the stream of public opinion" (Katyal, Reuters, 7/26). However, Vajpayee was "short on specifics" about how the government planned to address the epidemic, according to Agence France-Presse. Sonia Gandhi, leader of India's main opposition Congress party, called for expanded health insurance coverage, saying, "While Indian companies are world leaders in the manufacture of anti-AIDS drugs ... India does not have drug therapy as part of its AIDS program." She also called on the government to be more "confident" in its AIDS statistics in order to counter allegations that the government is covering up the problem. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a speech that was telecast to the conference, called for open discussion about AIDS in India. "It would be a terrible mistake to see AIDS as (just) a problem affecting the poor," Annan said (Roche, Agence France-Presse, 7/26).

Delegates Pass Resolution
The conference attendees voted to pass a resolution calling for a greater commitment to fighting AIDS and for legislation protecting HIV-positive people from discrimination (Agence France-Presse, 7/26). Although the conference has led officials to engage in the "most open discussion yet" about AIDS, leaders of the hardest-hit areas -- including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland -- were "glaringly absent" from the conference, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (Roche, AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/27). The prime minister's speech followed an announcement Friday by India's National AIDS Control Organisation that there were 4.58 million HIV-positive Indians at the end of 2002, a significant increase over the 3.97 million cases reported in 2001. As many as 25 million Indians could be HIV-positive by 2010, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/25). The Indian government has criticized the NIC report, saying that the report "spread panic," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 7/27).

Access to Antiretroviral Drugs in India
Access to antiretrovirals in India is of "particular concern ... as it becomes increasingly clear that [the] country ... has a growing AIDS problem," the Wall Street Journal reports. While generic drug manufacturers in the country produce antiretroviral drugs that cost less than $1 per patient per day, the government claims it cannot afford to make the drugs widely available. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to spend $100 million in India over the next 10 years to educate truck drivers about safer sex, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has pledged $100 million to the government to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women and their infants. While health experts disagree about the best way to address the epidemic in India, both sides agree that "much more" needs to be done to prevent an upsurge in cases. Until the government finds the money to provide antiretroviral drugs, private AIDS clinics must continue to "struggle to provide treatment" to an "extremely limited" number of patients, the Wall Street Journal reports (Angwin, Wall Street Journal, 7/28).

More information on AIDS in India is available online through's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.

A video feature on AIDS in India is available online.

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