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  • India’s new AIDS funds won’t be spent on free anti-retrovirals

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently pledged US$ 200 million -- the largest donation of its kind -- to fight HIV/AIDS in India. But none of this money will be spent on anti-retroviral drugs, which, activists say, could help alleviate the suffering of roughly 4 million Indians living with the virus, and prolong the lives of some of them.

    “The Indian government cannot afford to provide anti-retroviral treatment to those already suffering, or even subsidise it,” said Prasada Rao, secretary, union health ministry, while explaining the government’s stand. The emphasis will continue to be on “prevention rather than cure,” said Rao, who is a former director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). “The overall goal is to decrease the prevalence of HIV in high-risk groups and stabilise it in the general population by 2008,” he added.

    Expectedly, the government’s decision has drawn flak from people involved in the care of HIV/AIDS patients, and AIDS activists.

    Less than 10% of the 300-odd patients who have been attended to at the Naz Care Home, one of Delhi’s four voluntary institutions that care for people with HIV, have had any treatment with anti-retrovirals. “Most of the people who come to us just cannot afford treatment,” says Irfan Khan, a co-ordinator at Naz.

    “It is time that the Indian government moves out of its preventive approach and helps hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive people rather than leave them to die,” says Shruti Pandey, an activist with the Human Rights Law Network.

    Curiously, India is a major producer and exporter of generic anti-retrovirals. Large Indian companies, like Cipla and Ranbaxy, are poised to provide medication to patients in Africa and the Caribbean. Anti-retrovirals from Cipla, Ranbaxy and a third company, Matrix, have been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be of international quality.

    An official for Ranbaxy confirmed that his company would be providing generic triple-drug cocktail regimens at less than 40 cents a day per person under an agreement with the William J Clinton Presidential Foundation, which has been working on ways to cut treatment costs for millions of HIV sufferers worldwide. But, most patients who seek help at care homes cannot afford even 40 cents a day, says Khan who believes that it is time the government stepped in to provide free treatment and help stop the spread of the virus.

    Across the world, some six million of the 40 million people with HIV are estimated to require treatment. This figure is expected to rise in a few years. With a population of over one billion people, India has the second largest number of HIV-positive persons in the world, at around 4 million cases. In the developing world, only about 300,000 people are on anti-retrovirals. More than a third of that number is in Brazil, mainly because Brazil has legislated to provide free and universal treatment through its public health delivery system.

    While voluntary groups have stepped up the pressure for India to follow Brazil’s example, few see that happening in the immediate future. The Indian government spends less than a dollar per person on HIV/AIDS treatment, and less than 12 dollars overall per capita on healthcare.

    Estimates made by Lawyers Collective’s HIV/AIDS unit have put the annual cost of treatment with anti-retrovirals at $ 1,000 per head annually. However, they say, major changes have to be made to the public health delivery system before it can take on care and treatment.

    Source: http://infochangeindia.org


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