State legislators in India pledge to advance universal access to HIV services as a political goal
24 February 2009
In a milestone in the political response to HIV in India, more than a 100 elected state legislators, from all major political parties in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have pledged to incorporate the goal of universal access to HIV services in their political manifestos. Legislators from 15 major political parties in the state met at a special all-party function organized by the Legislators Forum on AIDS and the State AIDS Control Society on 21 February. They signed a joint declaration of intent to integrate HIV issues into their official electoral campaigning as they gear up for the state’s next election.
Andhra Pradesh is one of the states in India with a high prevalence of HIV and has some 53 million eligible voters. The state is slated to hold elections in four months time, all major political parties are currently preparing their political strategies and the gathering included members of the manifesto committees from all the major groups. The Forum’s aim is to keep HIV high in the political priorities, irrespective of whichever party comes to power in the state, and to sustain the momentum already generated.
“All political parties need to realize the importance of HIV prevention and need to incorporate points related to it in their manifestoes. We must go to the people with one voice. The political sector can influence the public and can awaken people at large,” said Dr. S. Shailajanath, the Convener of the Andhra Legislators Forum on AIDS.
If political parties give priority to HIV issues then it will be a major opportunity to mainstream HIV and end the culture of silence that afflicts the epidemic
Kalyan Rao, Secretary, Telugu Network for People living with HIV
The all-party pledge was preceded by several consultations and interactions between legislators and affected communities including sex workers and sexual minorities and signifies a major step forward in the political response.
“We think this is an important initiative. If political parties give priority to HIV issues then it will be a major opportunity to mainstream HIV and end the culture of silence that afflicts the epidemic,” said Kalyan Rao, Secretary, Telugu Network for People living with HIV. He said that such a show of political support will have a positive impact on reducing stigma and discrimination against the most-at-risk-populations.
The Project Director of the Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society, Dr Chandravadan, stressed the significance of the political commitment to the AIDS response. “It’s the first initiative of this kind in the country and the representation from all political parties illustrates the commitment towards HIV issues.” Elaborating further, Rajeswara Rao of Telugu Desam Party said: “a special effort will be made to address the issue of children infected with or affected by HIV.” Similar pledges were also made by representatives of all political parties at the function in the State Assembly’s Central Hall.
The gathered legislators also received a toolkit on HIV designed for elected leaders and a detailed report card highlighting the gaps in achieving millennium development goals in the state. Prepared by UNICEF, the report card provides detailed information on the challenges and what they could do to achieve the targets.
UNAIDS provided technical support to the Andhra Pradesh Legislators Forum on AIDS, which was the driving force behind the pledge. It is one among 14 similar Legislators Forums in other states of India. The Parliamentary Forum on AIDS is now working towards building a similar political consensus on HIV at the national level as India heads into its 15th general election.