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Young people join the fight against HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF India/2004
Special Session of National Students and Youth Parliament on HIV and AIDS, New Delhi, 6-7 November 2004
By Ajay Kanchan

NEW DELHI, 26 November 2004 - A two-day Special Session of National Students and Youth Parliament on HIV and AIDS was held in New Delhi on 6-7 November 2004. This first-of-its-kind event helped empower young people to play a role in combating the HIV and AIDS. As a result of the meeting, over 3,000 young people will be chosen as ‘ambassadors’ to disseminate information about HIV and AIDS throughout India.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Vice-President Mr. Bharion Singh Sekhawat, and UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot, all addressed the Special Session. They urged an end to the silence, stigma and shame associated with HIV and AIDS, and exhorted the youth leaders to become a beacon of hope for millions of others who are in need of accurate knowledge and information.

© UNICEF India/2004
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh speaks at the Special Session
“More than half of those newly infected with HIV today are between 15 and 24 years of age,” said Prime Minister Singh. “Every day, nearly 6,000 young people in the world get infected with HIV simply because they lack the necessary information, knowledge and skills to protect themselves. In the absence of a preventive vaccine against HIV infection, the social vaccine of `Education and Awareness' is the only effective method of prevention.”

The event led to the creation of Youth HIV and AIDS Forums in all the states of India, and to the passage of ‘The AIDS Patients and HIV Infected Persons (Rights and Welfare) Bill’. The Bill calls for creation of a supportive environment for HIV-positive people, which allows them to gain employment and receive adequate social care for themselves and their families.

Prime Minister Singh expressed his grave concern regarding the magnitude of HIV and AIDS: “From one reported HIV case in 1986, the number of HIV positive people in India has already crossed the five million mark. HIV and AIDS is no longer just a public health issue, but it has become one of the most serious socio-economic and development concerns as it largely affects the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable sections of society. We have no choice but to act and act with firmness, with urgency and with utmost seriousness.”

Dr. Piot described the Special Session of Youth Parliament as a great moment – not only for the fight against AIDS in India, but also for the global response to AIDS. He urged students and youth leaders to stand up for their rights: rights to information on how to protect themselves, and to access to social health services. He also stressed that young people must be given a seat at the table when policy and decisions were being made.



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