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Gates Foundation Doubles India AIDS Grant

October 13, 2003 GMT

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said Monday it was doubling to $200 million the prevention funds for HIV and AIDS that the Microsoft founder promised India in a visit last year.

The announcement came as a former U.S. diplomat said India must educate its 1 billion people about AIDS or face a crisis.

Education ``means talking about sex and intimacy. These are difficult problems in any country in the world, not just in India,″ said Richard Holbrooke, who heads Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS.

``But if you don’t do it, millions of people will be infected and every infected person will die, even with treatment,″ Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a conference of government and business leaders Monday.

In increasing its contribution from $100 million to $200 million, India now represents the Gates Foundation’s largest financial commitment to any HIV/AIDS initiative in the world, said Helene Gayle, director of the foundation.

The foundation also announced the first $67.5 million in grants, to be paid to seven organizations in India over the next five years. Target groups of the prevention strategy will include 300,000 commercial sex workers and 4.5 million clients, among them truck drivers and their helpers along 4,400 miles of major highways in India. The seven organizations will provide condoms, voluntary counseling, testing and care, Gayle said.

The Indian government says about 4.5 million people are infected with the AIDS virus, a number some experts consider a gross underestimate. Holbrooke also questioned the government’s figure, but said that even if correct, it will rise.

``India has the largest number of AIDS victims after South Africa,″ he said.

``We have to speak frankly and openly to young boys and girls _ 13 to 15 years old _ and tell them how AIDS is really spread and how to avoid it,″ he said.

Ben Plumley, chief of staff of UNAIDS, said his organization was keen to deepen its partnership with Indian industry in tackling the AIDS epidemic. The conference held Monday was organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry, an umbrella group of India’s top business groups.