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India: Young people key to HIV prevention

© UNICEF video
Anita and Jayshree, 18, are two young volunteer counsellors on HIV/AIDS in Mumbai, India.

By Dan Thomas

NEW YORK, 6 June 2005 – India intends to tackle HIV/AIDS head on - with children and young people as partners - the country’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare said in an interview in New York on Thursday.

Visiting UNICEF House after a visit to the United Nations, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss said the Indian government accepts that HIV/AIDS is a big problem and it is determined not to let it spread across India in the same way as it has in parts of Africa.

“We have a problem of HIV/AIDS and we accept it. We have been saying in all forums we don’t want to become another Africa,” Dr. Ramadoss said in an interview at UNICEF House.

“And people now have started realizing the problem and the importance of this issue. And no better person than my Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has been very active against this HIV issue,” he said.

“We have a situation in India where the National AIDS Council is being chaired by a Prime Minister. So this shows the importance of the disease,” he said.

Dr. Ramadoss stressed the importance of educating children and young people about the dangers of HIV and how to avoid it.

© UNICEF video
Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, India’s Health and Family Welfare Minister.

“Our main focus is to prevent the children, the young adults [from contracting HIV/AIDS], because they are the vulnerable section, the high risk group. And we have lined up a lot of programmes specifically for these children and the young adults from 15 to about 25 years old,” he said.

Despite some cultural concerns in India, Dr. Ramadoss said the government would promote the use of condoms.

“[For] the adolescent and the post-adolescent individuals, we are educating them on condom use. As you know, India is a society of closely knit communities. We’ve got our own tradition; our own culture. [But] we have to call a spade a spade. And we have to face reality. So we are going about a condom promotion campaign,” he said.

And he vowed to tackle the issue of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

“There is a problem in society in India where there is a lot of social stigma - people affected, the children affected - and some places - workplaces - where you’re turned away when they know you’ve [got] HIV. And some treatment places [where] people are being turned away. So it’s very distressing for the government for all these issues. So we are forced to enact legislation against discrimination,” he said.

Dr. Ramadoss said programmes in India to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children during birth or breast feeding had been successful and would be scaled up.

“There has been a very sizable reduction in children getting infected from a mother. Today, we have about 300 centres in the country. And we plan to upscale it to about 10,000 to 20,000 centres in the days to come,” he said. “And UNICEF has been very actively coordinating on this front,” he added.

“So we have a very cordial relationship and partnership with the UN, as well as UNICEF. And it’s going to go a long way to prevent and in fact to eliminate this problem of HIV/AIDS in India.”

Extra reporting by Jihun Sohn



Video interview

2 June 2005:
Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, India’s Health and Family Welfare Minister, talks about the issue of HIV/AIDS

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