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Pakistani pop band brings HIV/AIDS prevention message to children

© UNICEF Video
Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood sing a song for the children of the Government Girls Model School Postal Colony in Quetta, Pakistan.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, 20 October 2005 – HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in Pakistan, where many cases go unreported because of the stigma attached to the disease. Educating the country’s 75 million children and breaking the silence is key to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.

UNICEF is working with Pakistan’s top pop group Strings to reach the most vulnerable and isolated children. Band members Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood have become UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassadors and use their music and performances to get the HIV/AIDS message across.

“Pakistan is a very conservative society,” says Bilal Maqsood. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to it [HIV/AIDS]. People don’t want to talk about it. We need to come out and talk about it.”

He and Faisal have spoken to children all over the country, including young workers at a carpet weaving factory in Hazara. The children there are particularly vulnerable because they are often deprived of food and shelter and do not go to school.

A project run by a UNICEF partner, AMAL Human Development Network Pakistan, seeks to provide children and young people who are out of school, working or living on the street with life skills and non-formal education, basic health information and hygiene training. Thanks to this project, the children from the factory have a chance to meet the pop stars of Strings and learn about HIV/AIDS and how to protect themselves.

© UNICEF Video
Faisal Kapadia ties a blue HIV/AIDS awareness string around a boy’s hand at the Yazdan Khan Boys School on the outskirts of Quetta.

Peer education

“We are really excited about this new initiative that we’re undertaking with Strings,” says UNICEF Project Officer Bettina Schunter. “We realize that in Pakistan there is very little space for adolescents to discuss issues around reproductive health, around sexuality, to discuss it even amongst themselves. So we realize that it would be fantastic to have national ambassadors to bring this message to kids.”
At Yazdan Khan Boys School on the outskirts of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Faisal and Bilal join Ms. Schunter in tying symbolic blue string around the wrists of the pupils. The string reminds the children of the need to respect people living with HIV/AIDS and the importance of protecting themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, teenagers at the Government Girls Model School Postal Colony in Quetta are learning life skills through the Girl Guides of Pakistan. Peer education is particularly important for girls because discrimination can deny them the opportunity to realize their right to an education.

“All the girls there were very informative about HIV,” says Faisal. “They were asking us questions and giving us answers!”

“I think the reason for that is that they can relate to us,” adds Bilal. “They can relate to our music and the dialogue was very comfortable.”

According to UNAIDS, the majority of HIV infections in Pakistan are transmitted through intravenous drug use although sexually transmitted infections are also increasing. UNICEF is continuing to work with its partners to break down the stigma and reach those most vulnerable to the disease.




20 October 2005:
Jane O’Brien reports on ‘Strings’ – a Pakistani pop group that’s reaching out to children about HIV/AIDS prevention.

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