LUCKNOW, September 2007: While it is true that youth is power and power is youth, one cannot shut one’s eye to the stark reality that this potent section of our society is today also highly vulnerable to HIV\AIDS infection, chiefly through unprotected sex. According to the Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (UPSACS) there are 21,000 HIV positive people in the state, unofficial figures run into hundreds of thousand. The fact that the maximum cases of HIV infections are among youth between 15-40 years is a disturbing trend tat needs to be addressed immediately.
“We just have to talk AIDS to stop AIDS. The louder we speak, the lesser will be the danger to our youth. We have to harness the power of our youth brigade, equip them with correct, adequate knowledge about this purely preventive infection,” says Amitabh Awasthi of the UP Network of Positive People.
"It is no longer wise to remain silent, to push the issue under the carpet. This pertains to the sexual and reproductive health of our youth and must be discussed openly and without shyness,” advises HIV positive Amitabh Awasthi. He is one of the 50 positive people working for the Uttar Pradesh Network of Positive People (UPNPP). Set up in 2005, UPNPP today has centers in 20 districts of the state.
An attempt for to build a youth mass movement for creating awareness about HIV/AIDS was initiated in the state on the eve of World Youth Day, on 12 August 2007. The Lucknow University set up 70 red ribbon clubs in different affiliated colleges to spread awareness on the issue. The initiative was taken by the Social Work Department, which is the nodal centre for the University Talk AIDS (UTA) program. It is working in association with UPSACS, UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation.
“Prevention is most certainly better than cure. The best way to control HIV spread is to confront it, talk about it, and adopt safe behaviour for prevention. Youth participation will play a vital role in HIV prevention in UP,” said Dr Nimal Hettiaratchy, UNICEF State Representative for Uttar Pradesh.
Endorsing the need for disseminating information on the subject, Prof. R.P. Singh, Vice Chancellor, Lucknow University, said, “AIDS is a curse of the 21st century. India has a large population of youth, therefore it is imperative that we safeguard their health and initiate dialogue, interactive sessions on HIV\AIDS.”
Advising voluntary blood testing even in case of the smallest of doubt is what Dr. R.P. Mathur, Joint Director, UPSACS advises. “Remember an HIV positive person, who looks no different from a normal person, can out of sheer ignorance infect his partner and others.”
“Youth Mobilization for increasing the youth Response to HIV” is the promotional theme taken up by UNICEF, and under this they continue to organized marches, rallies, seminars, painting/poster competitions, slogan and essay writing competitions, in the state.
Earlier in February this year, the Varanasi-based Kashi Vidhyapeeth University organised an international conference on HIV in collaboration with UPSACS, UNICEF and other partners. Youth participation was integral to this conference. Showing their solidarity and support, the youth and delegates participated in a “friendship run” and also a candle light march, illuminating the city with hundreds of candles, in an attempt to spread the message of HIV/AIDS.
“It is distressing to think what lack of awareness on HIV/AIDS can lead to. We will be failing in our duty as parents, teachers and human beings if we do not give our children and youth the right information at the right time about HIV/AIDS,” asserts Beena, HIV specialist, UNICEF.
Indeed, this is true. An all out fight against the demon of HIV/AIDS is the need of the hour. This war must first begin within our hearts, within our homes, within our schools and colleges, in brief: within SOCIETY.