A not-for-profit, Christian-owned pharmaceutical factory in India has started to produce low-cost AIDS treatment drugs for the large and growing number of HIV positive people living in the world's second most populous country.
The company concerned is Comprehensive Medical Services India (CMSI), a division of the Inter-Church Service Association. Their preparations are aimed to extend the life expectancy of AIDS sufferers.
CMSI released the first batch of the anti-retroviral drugs in Chennai last week, with the involvement of a number of church health workers. They included Dr Jane Masiga of the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network, which has welcomed the 'important and significant initiative'.
Dr Masiga, who also works for the Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies, Nairobi, Kenya, released the Zidovudine capsules. Dr Bimal Charles, an epidemiologist from the Centre for Disease Control in India, received the first consignment.
Another package was released by Sebastian Ouseperamppil, who is general director of the Catholic Health Association.
Moses P. Manohar of Comprehensive Medical Services India said that the company will soon make available other components of an anti-retroviral tri-drug therapy in different combinations and various strengths.
The new treatments widen the range of options available to poor communities not just in India, but in other parts of the world too.
In a message for World AIDS Day last year, Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, specifically called for a reduction of the price of anti-viral drugs and medicines needed to treat HIV/AIDS patients.
Saying that AIDS is one of the "greatest health care challenges at a planetary level," he also urged the "banishing" of the "stigma that so often makes society harsh in relation to the AIDS victim".
India has seen a sharp increase in the estimated number of HIV infections over the past few years, from a few thousand in the early 1990s to around 5.1 million children and adults living with HIV/AIDS measured in 2003.
With a population exceeding one billion, the HIV epidemic in India is also having an impact on the overall spread of the virus in Asia and the Pacific.
Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network is an independent, Kenya-based Christian organization that seeks to increase positive health outcomes, especially for the poor, through church-related pharmaceutical services.
[Also on Ekklesia: Churches face up to world AIDS pandemic; and Religious right blocks Christian HIV and AIDS ministry name; The aWAKE Project: Uniting Against the Global AIDS Crisis]