PM’s Address at the Release of the Report of the Commission on AIDS

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has released the report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia entitled “Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an Effective Response” in New Delhi today. Following is the text of the Prime Ministers speech on the occasion:

“I am indeed very pleased to launch this very important Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia. I compliment my esteemed friend, Dr. C. Rangarajan, and his colleagues on the Commission for producing an extremely important and thought provoking report. It is a well-researched document that puts together information and analysis that can help us evolve more effective strategies for reversing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the countries of Asia.

It is heartening to note that the report validates the basic strategic framework that has been adopted in India. It reiterates and reconfirms our understanding of the epidemic. It shows that the measures that we have adopted in India to reverse the pandemic have a sound basis but there is no scope for complacency and Dr. Rangarajan has just now reminded us. We need to do more, we must do more and all segment of the national thinking community must be actively involve in this gigantic struggle against this menace of AIDS.

The report has underlined clearly the importance of a public health approach to the problem if we want truly sustainable gains. The public health approach places emphasis on strategies that focus on vulnerable population groups, among whom the virus is primarily lodged, and goes to the root of the problem with the objective of arresting its onward transmission.

It is a matter of some satisfaction that the situation in India is not as alarming as it was portrayed to be some years ago. While it used to be claimed that India may have up to 5 million persons affected by HIV, more recent estimates suggest that the number could be between 2 to 3 million, mainly in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. But there is no scope for complacency, as I said. We must regularly review strategies and the programme contained for increased enhanced effectiveness.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has brought into focus many of our prevalent social prejudices. The overwhelming number of cases are due to transmission through the sexual route. Strategies for tackling it, therefore, require more inclusive and less judgmental social approaches to questions of public health and personal hygiene.

This must begin by addressing the issue of the social stigma that attaches to those who carry the AIDS virus. I do believe that growing consciousness about HIV/AIDS is forcing us to address these issues but the speed of the response need to be greatly accelerated.

The government should play a leading role in this and I commend our Government to do precisely it. We seek your enlightened guidance how to strengthen our programme. We should work to remove legislative barriers that hinder access of high-risk groups to services. There is a proposal for a law which would penalize anyone discriminating against an AIDS infected person from access to employment, property or other services. This should be given serious consideration.

The fact that many of the vulnerable social groups, be they sex workers or homosexuals or drug users, face great social prejudice has made the task of identifying AIDS victims and treating them very difficult.

If we have to win this fight against HIV/AIDS we have, therefore, to create a more tolerant social environment. One need not condone socially unacceptable or medically inadvisable sexual practices in seeking a more tolerant approach to the problem. It is in the interests of the entire society that everyone afflicted by AIDS wins the battle against it. They deserve and have the right to live lives of dignity and self respect.

The target intervention projects that have been taken up with a focus on vulnerable populations are useful and necessary. This should be accompanied by more broad based educational programmes. Modern sex education at the appropriate school stages can be of great value.

The report has highlighted the importance of political engagement and leadership as a key part of national responses to HIV and AIDS. Law enforcement agencies and the judiciary need to be co-opted to support progressive policies that address the problem and in this context, I wish to commend the good work that is being done by our parliamentarian under the guidance of my esteemed colleague and friend Sh. Oscar Fernandes to mobilize the political will of our nation as an effective instrument of dealing of this massive societal problem.

The importance of community and civil society involvement at all stages of policy needs to be emphasized and it has been done in the Report. It is only with their help that public awareness regarding healthy sexual practices, including the use of condoms, can be widely propagated and social prejudices ended.

We need to understand the vulnerabilities that force some to resort to risky behaviour patterns and give them access to reliable and relevant information and basic services. We must give them adequate support to make their own choices in full awareness and responsibility. We need to encourage behaviour change and mould social attitudes, while shedding our inhibitions regarding matters related to sexual choices.

Our Government is fully committed to supporting the strategies and work being done by the National AIDS Control Organisation. It is heartening to see the strides that have been made in the last two years in scaling up access to services keeping in view the balance between prevention and treatment. I compliment the Union Health Ministry and NACO for the leadership they have shown in tackling this very difficult problem and containing the disease. But as I said earlier we must be ever more vigilant. We can not be satisfied with the status quo and you must therefore strive to improve the effectiveness of prevalent strategies as well as the Programme content.

I appeal to all medical practitioners, hospitals and blood banks across the country to adopt zero risk and best practice methods for blood collection and blood transfusion. Every citizen must have complete confidence in our blood safety practices. I am therefore, happy that an initiative has been taken to establish a national blood transfusion authority.

The problem of HIV/AIDS, and other pandemics like SARS and Avian Flu, demonstrate clearly the wisdom of that ancient Indian saying, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. That “THE WHOLE WORLD IS ONE LARGE FAMILY”. Like all phenomenon in nature, diseases do not respect national boundaries. Hence societal response to pandemics cannot be limited to national response mechanism alone.

Of course, every country and every government must have a strategy to deal with such threats to human safety and health. We need preventive and curative strategies at the national and local level. But, such national effort must be part of a wider regional and global effort. I am therefore, happy to see that my friend Dr. Rangaranjan chaired this commission which takes a wider view of the problem at the Asian level.

We live in an increasingly integrated world. There are few problems today that humankind faces which can be solved effectively within national boundaries by individual governments. Be it the problem of pandemics, be it the problem of food security, be it the problem of rising energy prices, be it the problem of water scarcity and water utilization, be it the problem of climate change and global warming, be it the problem of terrorism, be it the problem of drug peddling and arms proliferation, be it the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all of them require effective cooperative action at the global level.

Each and every challenge that we face has transnational dimensions and transnational implications. The world in which national governments have to deal with the challenges they face on their own, on the premise of national sovereignty and national self-interest, no longer exists. We live in the era of increasing global interdependence of nations.

I am encouraged by the fact that the global response to HIV/AIDS has been constructive and has yielded positive results. But there is scope for much more involvement of the global community. I hope this will show us the way forward in dealing with other similar challenges. I hope this valuable report adds to the available wisdom on the subject and will help us in shaping a more effective response at home. I compliment the authors of this report.”

Press Information Bureau, Government of India

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