India's health minister Saturday accused US software mogul Bill Gates and the US ambassador here of "spreading panic" over HIV and AIDS even as they pledged to help the country combat the deadly disease.
Microsoft founder Gates, the world's richest man, was due Monday in India, a major
software producer, where he is expected to pledge millions of dollars to prevent AIDS from spreading.
US Ambassador Robert Blackwill, meanwhile, said in a speech Wednesday in the southern city of Madras that Washington was committed to help India fight AIDS and has dedicated 63 million dollars to prevention programs over the past five years.
Asked about the two men's comments, Indian Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha said: "I don't think anyone should contribute to spreading panic among the general public.
"We are aware of the situation and it does concern me personally," he told The Indian Express.
The newspaper said the minister may show his anger at the vocal international concern over India's AIDS epidemic by refusing to meet with Gates. It quoted Sinha as saying no meeting had been finalized with the Microsoft chief.
India announced in March that it had 3.97 million people with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, more than any country other than South Africa.
But the US ambassador in his speech cited a US intelligence report saying that if AIDS is not checked, 25 million Indians could have HIV or AIDS by 2010.
"This would cause a human tragedy of historic proportions," Blackwill said.
"HIV/AIDS destroys lives and families, but it affects much more than health policy. It can have a major impact on a nation's economic and national security. This cannot be allowed to happen in India."
Health Minister Sinha responded: "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."
India's anti-AIDS activists say the disease is spreading in India because young people are increasingly promiscuous but are not learning about safe sex due to the prudishness of the Hindu nationalist-led government and society at large.