Newswise — The University of Manitoba is building on its groundbreaking work in preventing and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world with a US $17-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant, part of the foundation's US $200-million commitment to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in India, supports the development and implementation of an HIV/AIDS prevention strategy for the south Indian state of Karnataka, undertaken as a collaboration between the University of Manitoba and the state government.

With a population of approximately 55 million, Karnataka has a serious and growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. At present, it is estimated that there are about 500,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the state, or about 1.7 per cent of the adult population. In comparison, India's overall HIV infection rate is 0.8 per cent; in Canada, the rate is 0.2 per cent.

"The Gates Foundation is very pleased to support the University of Manitoba's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in India," said Helene D. Gayle, Director of the Gates Foundation's HIV, TB and Reproductive Health program. "By applying proven HIV prevention strategies, the University of Manitoba will support the Karnataka state government and other implementing partners in limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Karnataka region, which will also help to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS across the country."

"In Karnataka, we will be working from the ground up to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. We've learned from our experiences in Kenya and elsewhere that the most effective approach to HIV/AIDS prevention is to focus on the most vulnerable groups, and empower these people to improve their own health and the health of their communities," said Stephen Moses, Professor of community health sciences, medical microbiology and medicine at the University of Manitoba, and a key project advisor.

The University of Manitoba will work with state organizations, community groups and non-governmental organizations to create a wide-ranging approach to reducing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Under the leadership of James Blanchard, Associate Professor in the University of Manitoba's department of community health sciences, project activities will include:

- peer-mediated HIV education and prevention programs focusing on vulnerable groups such as female sex workers, their clients and other high-risk men; - communications programs that promote use of effective health services for STIs and HIV/AIDS, and increase knowledge of health risks and positive behaviour, including increased condom use; - improved health-care services, including training health-care workers and supporting clinics and health practitioners for treating STIs.

"As our long-term involvement in programs for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS demonstrates, the University of Manitoba is committed to using the knowledge of its infectious disease specialists and social scientists for the betterment of lives around the globe. We are very pleased to be able to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build on our efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in India, and across the world," said EmoË ke Szathmáry, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

The University of Manitoba has over 20 years of experience working with sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

The university's flagship project in Nairobi, Kenya began in 1980 in collaboration with the University of Nairobi. Programmatic efforts there to reduce HIV transmission among vulnerable groups and improve health-care services have resulted in dramatic declines in curable STIs, and have been associated with a declining trend in HIV prevalence in the general population. The Kenya program also includes research leading to the development of an AIDS vaccine. In 2001, the program received a US $1-million grant from the Gates Foundation.

The Karnataka project will build on the success in Kenya, and on the university's previous and ongoing work in India.

The University of Manitoba began its work in India in 1997, teaming up with the Government of India and the World Bank to help design the second phase of India's National AIDS Control Program.

Since 2001, the university has led the India-Canada Collaborative HIV/AIDS Project (ICHAP), supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The five-year, Cdn. $12.7-million project is helping state and community organizations design and carry out HIV/AIDS prevention and control programs in the states of Karnataka and Rajasthan.

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