Michel Sidibe, Executive Director, UNAIDSMichel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, is the face of reform to strengthen partnerships between civil society, governments and people living with HIV. On a high–profile official visit to India, he has met with many senior government officials to discuss and support the efforts of the Indian government in its response to HIV. Mr Sidibe is also on a advocacy mission for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, which include a set of commitments and actions to stop and reverse the spread of HIV. He feels that India has a key role to play in increasing the access of treatment of the disease globally. He spoke to Ishani Duttagupta of SundayET about what he feels India’s role should be going forward.
This is your first official visit to India, do you think that the national policy on AIDS here is moving in the right direction?
Globally and in India, HIV is revealing the major inequities among the haves and have–nots. The impact on women, for instance, is far greater than that on men. Again, last year the number of deaths were much more in the developing world compared with the developed countries. India is emerging as a centre of hope for universal access of treatment, care and support globally and the government should address that aspect. Besides, more needs to be done to create awareness in ensuring that HIV is not transmitted to babies from their mothers and a new generation is born free of the disease.
What are the lessons for the rest of the world from India’s AIDS programme?
India is emerging as a leader in universal accessibility of AIDS treatment. The Indian model for low cost treatment, which is accessible to a large number of poor people, can make a big difference across the developing world. The government should address the issue of universal coverage in the country. In the long run, as more patients move from first line therapy to the second line, the social cost will have a big impact on the health budget of the country.
Are there any lessons that India can learn from the African countries in AIDS programmes?
Many African countries have achieved big success on the prevention of transmission of HIV from mother to child. Botswana, for instance, has 80% coverage of mothers whereas in India the coverage of infected mothers is very low at 17%. India needs to reach out to such vulnerable groups in a more effective way since a large part of the developing world is looking to the Indian programme for direction. Another lesson to be learnt from the African experience is of leadership at all levels. It is not just high profile political leaders, but also effective leadership at the community and district level which is critical to the success of the fight against AIDS.
Also, the programmes cannot be effective in isolation in any country and it has to be part of a global agenda through political commitment, integration and convergence of government programmes. Africa has also shown that integration of health services and a broader programme covering diseases other than HIV – such as TB – is needed for capacity building.
Do you think the Indian AIDS prevention programme is moving towards achieving sustainability?
The government has to ensure that the national plan is better targeted through health system reforms. A strong leadership is needed to identify the vulnerable areas and developing responses accordingly. In the global fight against this epidemic, India is poised to emerge as a major partner for transfer of technology and to develop low–cost medical solutions which will help democratise treatment in countries such as Africa.
What are your views on the role played by the pharmaceutical companies in the global fight against AIDS?
The role of the pharma companies is very important and they have to be involved in a big way. It is important for them to boost R&D and add innovation in developing medical solutions. However, lower cost of treatment for the poor and need to produce drugs which are efficient and can yet be delivered at low prices is also critical. The drug companies need to be involved in a big way in the debate globally and UNAIDS is addressing the need to work with them.
Source: The Economic Times