january 8, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 54  

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U of M gets some Bill Gates cash

By Jonathan Yazer
Gazette Staff

A Canadian university and the philanthropic organization belonging to the world’s wealthiest man and his wife have partnered to help quell the most threatening public health crisis in India.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken another significant step in the global effort to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS by making a US$17 million donation to the University of Manitoba.

“Most of the money will go to program activities in Karnataka, a large state in the southern part of India,” said Stephen Moses, professor of community health sciences, medical microbiology and medicine at the University of Manitoba. Moses and James Blanchard, an associate professor at the university, will head the project.

“[The grant will target] various vulnerable, high-risk groups,” Moses said, adding it is designed to deliver programs to curb the growth of AIDS in India with an educational program and a condom promotion campaign. “The current programs tend to be small; they need to be scaled up,” he said.

He explained that private donors are not the only groups funding HIV/AIDS prevention programs; the University of Manitoba also receives funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

Quantitative research on such programs is scant, said CIDA media relations officer Suzanne Quinn. “Given the scope of the task, it is not a common practice among donor agencies to undertake an overall impact evaluation of its HIV/AIDS programming.”

The evidence that does exist suggests HIV/AIDS intervention programs can be tremendously successful, said Michael Alary, professor of social and preventative medicine at Laval University in Quebec City.

Alary is director of field operations in Benin, India where a consortium of four institutions carry out interventions aimed at groups susceptible to HIV/AIDS. “We have researched extensively on our successes in Benin,” he said, detailing how a single intervention in a major city prevented half of all AIDS epidemics since 1993.

According to Moses, roughly two per cent of the adult population in Karnataka is infected, although a much greater proportion of many African populations are infected with HIV/AIDS. The epidemic is nonetheless a serious problem in India, where four million individuals are infected.

“The predictions are pretty grim. The [United States] State Department has predicted that between 15 and 20 million people could be infected [with HIV/AIDS] within five to 10 years,” he said. “If we commit to a strong effort against HIV/AIDS, we can stem the tide.”

“The University of Manitoba has worked mainly in Kenya for the past 20 years and intensively in India for three years,” Moses said. The university was a natural choice for the grant since it already has a close relationship with state and local governments, as well as regional non-governmental organizations in India, he added.



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