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Juniors' AIDS relief organization to launch pilot program in Mumbai

AIDS Relief International, a nonprofit organization started by seven Brown juniors that seeks to support people living with HIV and AIDS, is currently developing a pilot program in Mumbai, India. Led by Harish Pathak, the director of the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society, the pilot program will bring nutritional supplements to children currently undergoing antiretroviral therapy to fight HIV.

Antiretroviral therapy "is really important, but people tend to overlook malnutrition and how it affects the efficacy of the drugs," said Cara Smith '11, one of the organization's co-founders.

Though Pathak "controls all money into and out of Mumbai related to AIDS, which is millions of dollars," said Lauren Krumeich '11, a co-founder and current CFO, he is not permitted to use any of the money for transportation or nutrition. This means many of the children who need the medication do not receive it, and those who do are unable to process it because they are so malnourished, she said. 

"There are plenty of nonprofits and corporations geared toward the HIV/AIDS crisis, but I've found that the majority of them just send in medications and are so large-scale that their effectiveness is not properly evaluated," Allison Glasgow '11, a co-founder, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "We interact with the people we want to help; our aim is to work together with the community to find solutions."

Over spring break, co-founder and current CEO Gaurie Tilak '11, a member of The Herald's editorial page board, traveled to Mumbai to launch the official beginning of the organization's pilot program. The event took place at Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital named after Gaurie's ancestor, she said, and included parents and guardians of children for whom the program will provide nutritional supplements.

Other guests included Pathak, Vice President for International Affairs Matthew Gutmann and Medha Somaiya, the general secretary of Yuvak Pratishthan, an NGO in India and a supporter of the program, Krumeich wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Smith and Tilak will both spend the summer in Mumbai working in the clinics to get the program off the ground, she said. The trip will be funded by a C.V. Starr Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship, she added.

"You can't really start anything until you get there and see the environment," Smith said, adding that "we know that the parents will be receptive, but how feasible is it to give educational and financial support to these families is something we can't be sure of yet."

Smith said the organization will probably hire people in India to work in the clinics eventually, but that is not something that will happen for at least a couple of years. 

Smith said she feels it is very important to continue and expand the organization's relationship with those involved in India. She said members of the organization want to make sure there is not a disconnect between the creators of the program and those living in the midst of the problem.

"We're trying to make some sustainable change," she said.

Members of AIDS Relief International hope to make several trips to India in the future to ensure positive development. In addition, Krumeich said the organization began a Brown chapter this semester and may expand to high schools. 

Smith said she is really excited, despite the difficulty of balancing the project with her other commitments. "For the first two years at Brown, I struggled with the question ‘why am I here?'" — a question she said she finally began to answer when Tilak approached her with the idea of AIDS Relief International.

Krumeich echoes a similar sentiment. "I'm very interested in connecting with other cultures — as a doctor, that's something I want to do," she said, adding that such a connection is something that's always been reinforced at Brown.

She said the organization is something she really cares about. "I don't think I necessarily want to go into AIDS work," she said, "but the more I can learn about issues that affect populations, the better doctor I can be."


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