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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 November, 2003, 19:42 GMT
India backs low-priced HIV drugs
Sushma Swaraj
Ms Swaraj chided firms for not providing cheap treatment at home
The Indian Government is to provide low-priced drugs for treating HIV/Aids, it has been announced in Delhi.

Health Minister Sushma Swaraj said more than $40m would be allocated from next April to provide drugs in government-run hospitals.

More than 4.5 million people have been diagnosed as HIV positive in India - only South Africa has more sufferers.

The drugs will come from three big pharmaceutical companies in India that already supply cheap drugs to Africa.

Ms Swaraj told a news conference that the first projects would be in the worst-affected states: Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Manipur and Nagaland.

I asked pharmaceutical companies why they couldn't bring down prices for their own people
Sushma Swaraj
The companies are already participating in a project run by a charity formed by former US President Bill Clinton that provides drugs to African countries and the Carribbean.

The announcement came as people around the world were preparing to mark World Aids Day with vigils, concerts, parades and seminars.

An 80-member American delegation headed by US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson began a tour of sub-Saharan Africa to help raise awareness and assess projects on treatment and prevent of HIV/Aids.

A number of sporting events will mark the occasion, including international Cricket matches in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

Unsuccessful campaigns

The UN has warned India that will it have more HIV-positive people by 2005 than any other country in the world.

BBC correspondent Navdip Dhariwal says in-your-face campaigns have failed to raise awareness of the disease in a deeply conservative society.

At the same time the government has been under strong pressure to craft a policy to provide access to drugs completely unaffordable to most Indians.

"I asked the Indian pharmaceutical companies why they couldn't bring down their prices for their own people when they were offering such a good deal to the Clinton Aids foundation," Ms Swaraj told reporters on the eve of World Aids Day.

"I am delighted to announce that after a very fruitful meeting they promised to slash the prices for India if the government gave them certain export benefits.

She also announced that she was planning measures to protect those with the disease in other ways, such as legislation to prevent discrimination against those with HIV.

"Children are not being admitted to schools... doctors refuse to give treatment. So, to make this a criminal offence, we are soon going to bring in a new law," she said.

The budget unveiled on Sunday will also help to fund free medication for children and the poorest patients, as well as people with HIV/Aids, the health minister said.

The BBC's Michael Voss
"India has the highest number of people with Aids in the world outside south Africa"

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