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Touched Bill steers clear of AIDS number mire

New Delhi, Nov. 11: The creator of Windows opened another today — of hope for all those afflicted by HIV/AIDS in India.

Microsoft chief Bill Gates chose the thousands suffering from the malaise as the beneficiaries of the $100-million project to be executed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India for preventing its spread.

“I am lucky to have the wealth that I have. And it is going to the foundation which is engaged in 100 per cent non-profit activity. There is no profit motive attached to the HIV\AIDS project,” Gates said at a news conference.

He said the project would focus on mobile populations, truck drivers, migrant labourers, construction workers and their sexual partners.

The Microsoft chief has been to India several times but never on a mission like this. In the morning, he visited HIV/AIDS patients in a South Delhi care home run by the Naz Foundation. “I learned a lot from these interactions. I was especially touched by the children,” Gates later said when he met those taking care of the patients. Sitting on the ground in a small basement room, he listened to the experiences of the patients as well as those working in the field.

Gates showered praise on the “talent” in the country in all fields of scientific and medical research. “India can be the best example of how to deal with HIV/AIDS. If they do the right things and with all the talent the country has, India will surely be able to overcome the challenge,” he said.

But not all in the government are convinced about his philanthropic drive or the lavish words of praise. Before the Microsoft chief landed in Delhi, the health ministry had questioned US ambassador Robert Blackwell’s assertion that there will be an estimated 25 million people with HIV by the end of 2010. The health ministry and the National AIDS Control Organisation estimates are nowhere near this figure.

However, at day’s end, the Microsoft chief seemed to have mended some of the fences. He met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and expressed satisfaction over the meeting.

Union health minister Shatrughan Sinha was nominated chairperson of the programme board that will execute the project. The full board, to be named later, will include two government officials as well as representatives from the business and medical communities and NGOs. “The Union health minister is hosting a reception for us tonight,” Gates said.

The outlines of the project remained hazy, though the sum of money promised was tantalising. Attempting to allay fears of the government about him starting a parallel programme, Gates said: “The role of the government is central. We will work with the government as a partner.”

It is, however, not clear exactly how the foundation will rope in the government agencies. For the time being, he said, the foundation will look for reliable partners who can use the resources properly.

Gates refused to be drawn into the numbers controversy about HIV\AIDS patients in India. “We do not know what the numbers are,” he said. “But HIV/AIDS definitely poses a serious challenge. We are making sure that it gets talked about.”

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