By Gurinder Gulati
VADODARA, Gujarat, India 3 December 2009 – “Together, we will defeat HIV/AIDS in Gujarat by empowering the youth with information on ways to protect themselves against HIV,” echoed 5,000 young peer educators who had gathered in Vadodara from different parts of the state to commemorate the World AIDS Day at the state level event jointly organized by a consortium of NGOs and Gujarat State AIDS Control Society.
Gujarat is a medium prevalence state and witnessed a sharp decline in prevalence rate from 0.54 % in 2002 to 0.38% in 2007.
This can be attributed to the steps taken by the Gujarat State AIDS Control Society to establish essential services for testing and treatment and spreading awareness, particularly among youth, about the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
Around 400 Integrated Counseling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) are functioning all over the state as against 35 in the 2005. While these facilities were available at the district level in the past, now people in the rural areas also have access to these services.
UNICEF is a key partner of the Gujarat State AIDS Control Society and has provided critical support in strengthening the quality of ICTC services and spreading awareness among young people in the rural Gujarat.
Speaking at the event, the Chief of Field Office, Gujarat, Dr Yogendra Mathur said, “The strong presence of more than 5,000 youth in today’s event has turned this into a big occasion. These young peer educators have taken the responsibility to disseminate key information among the most vulnerable youth on the ways to protect against HIV/AIDS”
UNICEF had entered into partnership with NGOs and Gujarat State AIDS Control Society in 2006 and has trained more than 14,000 young peer educators, who are actively engaged in spreading awareness among young people in remote villages of Baroda, Surat and Valsad districts in the state.
Building on the success of the Peer Educator initiative, the Government has decided to implement Link Worker Scheme in seven districts in addition to the three being supported by UNICEF.
Helped by the peer educators, these link workers will be spreading awareness about prevention of HIV/AIDS in the designated ‘hot spots’ and mobilise people to avail various services available free of cost at the ICTCs set up by the Government.
The Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Mr Parbhat Bhai Patel, highlighted the importance of all Government Departments working together to overcome the menace of HIV by spreading awareness.
Mr. Patel thanked UNICEF for taking the lead in setting up Youth Information Centres and making information available to the young people about safe behaviours to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS.
“Media needs to play a positive role in spreading awareness about the ways in which people can protect themselves rather than creating an environment of fear about this dreaded disease,” said Mr. Patel.
Mr. Rajesh Kishore, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare also addressed the audience. Ms Vijay Laxmi Joshi, Commissioner, Public Health was also present on the occasion.
UNICEF has supported the Government in establishing 250 Youth Information Centres (YICs) and Red Ribbon Clubs in the three districts of Baroda, Surat and Valsad.
Dr Yogendra Mathur appealed to the Minister to scale up the Youth Information Centers initiative to all the 25 districts of the State.
Sports kits were distributed on this occasion to equip the YICs for bringing the village youth together at the YICs and educate them about safe behaviours
The World AIDS day provided a good platform for advocacy with the Government as well as Civil Society Organizations for according highest priority to an issue like HIV/AIDS.
Government functionaries and NGO representatives, who had made commendable contribution in this field, were felicitated on this occasion.
The audience was also treated to a cultural event organized by the peer educators themselves spreading messages around prevention of HIV/AIDS and elimination of stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV/AIDS.
At the end, a pledge was taken by more than 5,000 youth, Government officials and NGO representatives to work tirelessly to empower the youth with information on prevention of HIV/AIDS.