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Mass Rally marks World AIDS Day in Kolkata

© UNICEF/India/2006
Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi flagged-off the rally

Kolkata, December 01, 2006:  To commemorate the World AIDS Day, December 1, the Department of Sports and Youth Services, Government of West Bengal, and UNICEF organised a massive rally involving nearly 15,000 young people in Kolkata and more than 1,500 football matches across the state today.

Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi flagged-off the rally from the historic Victoria Memorial Hall in the presence of Subhas Chakraborty, Minister-In-Charge of Department of Sports and Youth Services, Pratim Chatterjee, the Minister of Fire Services, and other important officials of the state government.

Noted actors Biswajeet and Madhvi Mukherjee and Olympian Gurbach Singh were among the celebrities that graced the flag-off ceremony. Children tied ‘Suraksha Bandhan’ to the dignitaries, taking a promise from them to take on the issues of HIV/AIDS.

The rally witnessed the participation of 15,000 young people from about 60 sports associations and scores of school students, in spite of a state-wide bandh called by opposition parties. The rally is part of a partnership between the Department of Youth Services and UNICEF for mainstreaming HIV/AIDS prevention in the West Bengal State Annual Student-Youth Festival, 2006. The festival witnesses participation of about 850,000 young people each year. In the afternoon, the more than 1,500 football matches were organized in all the blocks and Municipality wards of West Bengal with the theme of spreading awareness on HIV/AIDS through sports.

Speaking at the flag-off ceremony, Hon’ble Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi said: “I am happy to be with so many young boys and girls today here. Time is short, we must act now.” Pointing to one of the messages of the rally on the practice of abstinence, precautions and safety for prevention of HIV, the Governor pointed out that he cannot think of a more appropriate and better message for young people. “Young people have a major role to play in prevention of HIV/AIDS. Through such initiatives it is hoped that awareness about HIV/AIDS increases and stigma and discrimination associated with people living with HIV comes to an end.”

© UNICEF/India/2006
The Mass Rally commenced from Victoria Memorial to Netaji Subhash Indoor Stadium
Subhas Chakraborty, Minister-in-Charge of Sports and Youth Services, said, “It is a pleasure to partner a noble cause like this. By being associated with the activities, we expect to reach out to people, who can help us spread awareness about HIV/AIDS. In the afternoon, HIV prevention messages will be disseminated through more than 1,800 football matches in all the blocks and municipality wards of the state reaching at least two million young people. Super league teams like East Bengal and Chirag are also playing in these matches.”

Dr. Werner Schultink, UNICEF State Representative, thanked the Department of Youth Services and Sports for mainstreaming HIV/AIDS prevention into the Annual Youth Festival. “HIV rates are on rise in West Bengal. Unlike other diseases which generally affect children and old people, HIV attacks young people, who are the main resources in our fight against it. Awareness generation for promotion and continuation of safe behaviour of young people and changing risky behaviour are priorities. We have examples of success stories like Thailand and Uganda and closer to home in Tamil Nadu, which have successfully contained the epidemic. We must Unite for Children and Unite Against AIDS to protect young people from the state,” Dr. Schultink said.

The partnership between Department of Sports and Youth Services and UNICEF, as a part of which various other activities like quiz competitions are organized in the whole state, comes at a crucial time. While many of the Southern States of India showing evidence of plateauing of HIV epidemic in recent years, in West Bengal HIV prevalence has registered a steady increase since 2001 and in 2005, it reached 0.9 percent, just below the tipping point of 1% among adult population.

Currently, India is estimated to have the second highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world. According to the latest UNAIDS epidemic update, India accounts for 5.206 million out of the estimated 40.3 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide (2005 Annual AIDS Update).  UNAIDS estimates that there are 170,000 children below the age of 15 years infected with HIV in India. With feminization of the HIV epidemic, women now account for a growing proportion of new infections – 38 percent in 2005. About 57 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS are from the rural areas.  Furthermore about half of all new infections are occurring among young people between the ages of 15 – 24 years.



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