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Gates flies into India ‘AIDS scaremongering’ row

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Kicking off a visit to India today Bill Gates may have expected (in the words of the New York Times "a fawning group of state chief ministers and federal political leaders lining up outside his hotel suites, waiting for a chance to meet with the world's richest man." Instead, he may have flown into a storm over AIDS scaremongering.

According to an Agence France Presse report in the Hindustan Times, Indian Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha has lashed out at both Gates and US Ambassador Robert Blackwill, accusing them of spreading AIDS panic. In Madras last Wednesday Blackwill delivered a speech on AIDS, in which he cited a US report predicting that AIDS could affect 25 million people in India by 2010 if it is not checked. The most recent Indian report, from March, says 3.97 million people are HIV positive.

Says Sinha: "What do we achieve by saying in public that we will have 25 million people with AIDS in the coming years? Every year we update the information on the HIV/AIDS scene in the country. And we are surprised by the figures being cited freely."

What has this got to do with Bill? Well, in addition to getting a lid on the disturbing-sounding Linux India Initiative, he's on the donation trail, as Ambassador Blackwill said in his speech: "In the area of private-public partnerships, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an active program of HIV/AIDS prevention around the world. Mr. Gates will visit India next week in connection with that work."

So Blackwill's implementation of the public-private partnership has unfortunately associated Gates with a bust-up with the Health Minister. Weirdly, one of the sections of Blackwill's speech is headed "The Road Ahead." But that just has to be a coincidence. ®

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