India launches ‘grassroots’ outreach for HIV
08 August 2006
India’s villages and towns join hands in the AIDS battle
New Delhi, August 8: The government of India has launched its largest ever outreach on AIDS to the country’s elected representatives with the hosting of first national convention of District Council Chairpersons (Zilla Parishad Adhyakshas) and Mayors.
The convention, which was held at the National conference centre in New Delhi at the beginning of August, brought together more than 500 representatives from the local town and village governance mechanisms- ‘Panchayati Raj’ and ‘nagarpalika’ institutions - to join the AIDS response at the district level.
A joint initiative of the Government of India, the National Aids Control Organization (NACO), the Parliamentarians’ Forum on HIV/AIDS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the convention is part of an effort to build a country wide community of locally elected leaders in the rural and urban areas who have the potential to influence policies, programming and resource management., making mainstreaming a reality in the Indian context.
With an estimated 5.21 million people aged between 15 and 49* living with HIV in India, the country has launched a major response in the fight against HIV. Working in this way at the district level, the ‘Zilla Parishad initiative’ is a step towards strengthening local responses at the grassroots level – through communities and households - and increase communities ability to face and respond to HIV and AIDS.
“India’s District Chairpersons and Mayors wield a large amount of influence that can be positively directed in creating awareness and removing stigma in the drive against HIV. They can ensure HIV related issues are addressed through proper planning and budgetary allocation and as community leaders they can address stigma and discrimination by dispelling myths about the epidemic,” said Dr. Denis Broun, Country Coordinator, UNAIDS, who spoke at the convention.
The convention delegates were also addressed by Shri Oscar Fernandes, Union Minister and Convener, Parliamentarians’ Forum on HIV/AIDS; Shri Mani Shankar Aiyer, Union Minister for Panchayati Raj; Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister for Urban Development and Ms. K. Sujatha Rao, Director General , NACO.
As part of the convention, discussions took place on the rural and urban contexts of AIDS in India. HIV related targets and programmes were shared with the objective of achieving seamless implementation across the nation. In seeking support of the decentralized authorities, this Convention becomes the basis of decentralized planning envisaged in ‘Phase III’ of the National AIDS Control Programme, which is expected to be launched in November 2006.
“The challenges that the HIV epidemic poses need to be addressed at the district and community levels. By involving the Zilla Parishad chairpersons we are working towards tackling the epidemic at the level where it touches individual lives,” said Ms. Sujatha Rao, Director General, NACO.
Given the influence and access of District Council Chairpersons and Mayors at town and village levels they can make significant differences in the AIDS response by influencing district development plans to ensure HIV related activities are included and appropriate budgets allocated and allocating their own funds to the response. They can also advocate with heads of various departments (especially health and education) to introduce systems that can help reduce stigma and discrimination and provide relevant information and referrals to communities who access their services. As community leaders they can talk about HIV in all fora to further address stigma and discrimination and as political representatives they can advocate to bring HIV to the top of the political agenda.
Highlighting the critical role of local-level institutions in the HIV and AIDS battle, Shri Oscar Fernandes, Convenor of the Parliamentarians’ Forum on HIV/AIDS said, “Zilla Parishad Chairpersons have many strategic advantages which will enable them to influence the HIV programmes at the district level. The aim of this Convention is to sensitize district level representatives and thus make a difference to the HIV situation in the country at the grassroots level.”
The Convention concluded with the signing of a Declaration of Commitment by the District Chairpersons and Mayors. The declaration outlines the way forward and pledges sincere engagement in the HIV response at the district and community levels.
*NACO figures, 2005
National AIDS Control Organization (NACO)
Photographs from the event:
(left to right): Kumari Shelja, Minister of Urban Employment & Poverty Alleviation, Mr. Oscar Fernandes, Union Minister and Convenor Parliamentarians’ Forum on HIV/AIDS; Mr. Anbumani Ramdoss, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare; Mr. Manishankar Aiyar, Union Minister for Panchayati Raj; Shri Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister for Urban Development at the Convention
Shri Sitaram Yechuri, Honourable Member of Parliament addresses the Convention
ZP Adhyakshas and mayors pledging support to the AIDS response.
ZP Adhyakshas and Mayors signing the Oath of Commitment.