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Bill heads to Delhi, for AIDS & Atal

New Delhi, Nov. 17: Former US President Bill Clinton is visiting India for two days from November 21. Clinton, who will fly in from Hong Kong on a private aircraft, will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on arrival.

Clinton was supposed to come to India in connection with the work of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation in the field of the battle against AIDS and in his capacity as a member of the American Indian Foundation which has been working with earthquake victims in Gujarat.

Clinton had apparently said that he would come to India only if he could meet Prime Minister Vajpayee. The Indian Prime Minister then decided not only to meet him but also host a lunch for the former US President. The lunch is to be hosted on November 21. Clinton may also make a flying visit to Gujarat to see the work of the American Indian Foundation among earthquake victims on the issues of health, water and sanitation, reconstruction of schools and clinics.

While in Delhi, Clinton is expected to push forward his initiative to slash the cost of HIV/ AIDS drugs. He is to sign a memorandum of understanding on behalf of his foundation with three Indian drug companies — CIPLA, Ranbaxy and Matrix Laboratories — on bringing down the cost of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. Ranbaxy holds a 15 per cent share in the anti-retroviral drug segment in India.

A deal has been brokered by the former US President between the three Indian pharmaceutical companies and South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings which would allow three million patients in Africa and the Caribbean to obtain anti-retroviral drugs at an affordable rate by 2005.

Known as the three-by-five initiative (three million patients by 2005), Clinton’s initiative is aimed at bringing the cost of these AIDS drugs to about 38 cents per day from $1.54 for patented drugs and 55 cents for generic drugs. In India itself, there are an estimated 3.97 million HIV-positive people — the highest after South Africa. Given the prohibitive cost of anti-retroviral drugs, at present only about 300,000 people in the developing world are receiving these drugs.

The former US President has made the battle against HIV/ AIDS a focal point of his foundation’s activities. His argument has been that unless the pandemic is combated in the developing world, where 42 million people are infected with the disease, precious lives could be lost and it would be impossible for these countries to achieve social and economic development goals.

According to the estimates of the Clinton foundation, there are between five to six million people with AIDS worldwide who desperately need treatment. This number is likely to go up with more than 40 million people who are infected with HIV. It has also been estimated that of the four million AIDS victims in sub-Saharan Africa, only 50,000 are receiving anti-retroviral drugs.

Clinton has acted on his commitment by establishing the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative and by serving as co-Chair of the International Aids Trust (AT) with Nelson Mandela. They have been working to raise global commitment to combat the dreaded disease.

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