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India committed to combating AIDS

By P.S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE, JULY 11. India today reaffirmed its political commitment to control the spread of HIV/AIDS.

At the second Asia-Pacific ministerial meeting on HIV/AIDS in Bangkok, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Anbumani Ramadoss, said India's new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government had ``expressed its strong political commitment'' in this regard through the Common Minimum Programme that provided the framework for governance.

India, the Minister said, perceived the control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as not only ``a major public health challenge'' but also ``a development imperative''. Dr. Ramadoss recalled in this context that Sonia Gandhi, currently the UPA chairperson, had told a special session of the U.N. General Assembly in 2001 that success in the control of HIV/AIDS could be accomplished ``if we are both compassionate in our approach and passionate in our execution''.

As at the end of 2003, India had identified cases of 5.1 million HIV infections, accounting to less than one per cent of the population. While India had moved ``swiftly and competently'' to counter the spread of the disease, the ``national AIDS control remains under-resourced'' and the country's needs in this battle remained ``immense''.

Tracing the steps already taken, the Minister said anti-retroviral therapy (ART) had been introduced in India in April 2004 ``free of cost, through the public sector''. The civil society had also been co-opted in this regard, and a ``consortium'' of non-governmental agencies ``will now systematically mobilise community-level responses''. Maintaining that the ``initiative is beginning to gain momentum'', the Minister said India could offer other developing countries access to its pharmaceutical sector that was producing relevant anti-retroviral drugs at affordable prices.

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