‘India has to play a critical role in HIV prevention'
Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, asks India to reduce its dependence on external funding
The world can achieve the vision of ‘zero new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections, zero instance of stigma and discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths' if India plays a critical role in bringing about this transformation, domestically and on the world stage, Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS (a joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS) has said.
“India needs to retain its role as the world's leading producer of high quality generic drugs, and lead the push for the next generation in HIV treatment,” Mr. Sidibe told The Hindu here, but added that India's own coverage of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) was woefully less, just about 26 per cent.
The world's 86 per cent of HIV-infected population in low and middle-income countries are now being treated for HIV with generic drugs manufactured in India. Reminding of the International AIDS Conference in Vancouver in 1996, where India was branded the future AIDS capital of the world, with infection levels projected to reach 20 million people living with HIV by 2010, Mr. Sidibe said India had reduced the rate of new infection by 50 per cent. He also asked India to reduce its dependence on external funding which often made good programmes vulnerable.
Mr. Sidibe hoped India would resist pressure from other countries to place limits of TRIPs (trade related aspects of intellectual property rights) flexibilities. The generic high quality drugs manufactured in India have brought down the cost of drugs used for treating HIV and helped a large percentage of infected population access treatment, he said.
Appreciating India's revolutionary stand to end the criminalisation of people on the basis of their sexual orientation, removal of HIV-related travel restrictions, and restoring the dignity of people living with HIV, Mr. Sidibe said India was using its role to exercise decisive influence in key global debates. He suggested that India should influence the G-20 to debate on HIV instead of treating it as an event of the past.
Here in India for the two-day national convention of parliamentarians, legislators, zilla parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV/AIDS, Mr. Sidibe said the meeting was indicative of the power of India's grassroots social equality in action, and a manifestation of grassroots democracy where communities had a role to play in implementing the policies and programmes.
He, however, impressed upon the Indian government to pass the HIV/AIDS Bill which he described as an excellent Bill in waiting that would help in addressing issues such as stigma and access to health care.
Calling for a game-changing approach, Mr. Sidibe hoped that the just-established India-Africa Forum would mobilise the private sector and capitalise on their capabilities to check the HIV epidemic.