RAISING AIDS AWARENESS AMONG POLICY MAKERS IN INDIA
07 July 2006
First legislative forum on HIV and AIDS in Bihar state
The Indian North Indian state of Bihar is the first in India to have established a forum with a formal constitution and institutional mechanisms for elected representatives to address AIDS issues in the state.
The Bihar Legislative Forum on HIV and AIDS (BLFA) was launched last week at a symposium in Bihar’s capital, by Shri Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s Chief Minister, as a way to raise AIDS awareness among policy makers in the state and to build capacity to address the challenges posed by AIDS.
Alerted by the growing number of infections, a number of Indian officials, including a former minister, submitted a proposal to create a forum for policy makers where they could learn more about HIV and AIDS and engage in dialogues on possible responses in the state.
In his opening address the Chief Minister welcomed the initiative and recognized the critical importance of leadership in the response to AIDS.
Reported numbers of HIV infections in the state (Bihar State AIDS control Society)
This initiative has come at the right time,” said Symposium organizer, elected member and speaker of Bihar legislative assembly, Mr Uday Narayan Chaudhary. “We are aware of the devastating effects of AIDS, but we need to know more about how it spreads and what we can do about it.”
“Half of the recently elected village representatives are women. This amounts to almost 100 000 women who could play a critical role in increasing people’s awareness about HIV at the grassroots level,” he added.
Chaudhary also said that heightened awareness is a key element to reducing the social stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
Recognizing the need for consolidated action in Bihar, the Chief Minister Shri Nitish Kumar called for strengthening the public awareness campaign and committed to expand health infrastructures at various levels in the state. He also committed to support seminars and workshops to educate more than 200 000 elected village representatives on issues of public importance such as agriculture, rural development as well as AIDS.
Supporting these initiatives, Denis Broun, UNAIDS country coordinator in India, underlined the importance of political leadership to move the response to AIDS one step further. “Facing up to the issue of AIDS and taking concrete action such as this is vital to getting ahead of the epidemic,” he said. “By creating this forum, , Bihar’s leaders have introduced a critical link that will be key to Bihar’s victory in its AIDS response.”