India unites village leaders in major HIV/AIDS offensive

Anthony Cuesta | August 10, 2006

DELHI — India has launched a major offensive against HIV/AIDS on Tuesday involving hundreds of village leaders.

According to BBC News, the focus on the rural areas comes as nearly 60% of HIV positive people live in the country's villages.

India now has some 5.7 million people infected with the HIV virus. Only South Africa has a comparable problem.

Officials say poverty, migration and limited access to health care are the main reasons which make rural India more vulnerable to the disease, reports BBC.

The new initiative was launched in the Indian capital Delhi by the government in partnership with United Nations AIDS agency.

The event, which was attended by some 500 village council leaders, aims to enlist their support in containing the spread of the disease.

"This is a very good idea. If local leaders talk about AIDS or even mention it at public meetings it helps," Anjali Gopalan, executive director of Naz Foundation India, a leading anti-HIV group, told Reuters.

"These leaders speak in the language people can understand."

"AIDS is a disease of intimacy and has a lot to do with things that are personal, such as sex and death," UNAIDS executive director Denis Broun told the convention, told BBC.

"The local-level bodies are the closest to the people, hence their cooperation is very important," he said.

The head of the National AIDS Control Organization, Sujatha Rao, told BBC that migrant workers and truck drivers have been identified as groups that take the infection to rural areas.

She said the program would train local leaders to help women with AIDS, who have to deal with discrimination and isolation.

Rao added that local leaders would be encouraged to make condoms more accessible and introduce Aids education in schools.

The village councils manage rural development plans, community services, public health and family welfare.

The council members generally belong to the village and have direct access to all the families in their area.

Despite the threat the virus poses to the general population, experts told reporters that the awareness about the spread and prevention of the disease is very low, particularly among women.

Also, they say, the low social status of women in India makes them more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

Although India has had HIV-Aids for two decades now, steps to control the disease have seriously been taken up only in the last six years or so, reports the BBC. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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