Youth volunteers from NSS and NGOs take the message to the streets of Bangalore.
By Vikas Verma
Bangalore. June 15, 2006.
Fifty percent of all new HIV infections in India are among young people between 15-24 years - making the fight to protect India’s future – the youth – all the more urgent.
As part of its ongoing efforts in supporting the Government of India to increase awareness around HIV -AIDS, UNICEF in collaboration with NGO partners rolled out the Young People’s Initiative through partner NGOs in six districts of Karnataka on June 15th.
Speaking at the launch Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Representative for the States of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka said, “If we truly want to alert and educate our youth about the dangers of HIV and AIDS, we must start the school education initiative from Class VI onwards”. In the first year this young people’s initiative will be implemented by 10 NGOs in 6 districts covering nearly 100,000 youth through 2,000 Peer Educators.
Exhorting the young people to get involved in the programme designing process he hoped that by the end of 2007 all 250,000 NSS (National Service Scheme) volunteers in Karnataka would be fully engaged in the initiative. He also proposed that the children affected by HIV be provided anti retro-viral therapy (ART) drugs and community-based care be instituted by the government.
Young people from within the community will be identified as peers and trained in behaviour change communication so that youth can access services through their own peers.
Mr. R Ashok, the Minister for Health and Family Services, Karnataka in a rally against AIDS
So instead of a conference room launch, youth volunteers from NSS and NGOs decided to take to the streets of Bangalore. Queuing up early in the morning to start the march from the Vidhan Soudha (the state legislative assembly), their enthusiasm was palpable judging from the colourful and witty slogans written on placards. The spontaneous street theatre shows put up by NGOs at the end of the march added to the commitment and vigour of the young people participating in the event.
Flagging off the march Mr. R Ashok, the Minister for Health and Family Services, Karnataka said, “The department of health will extend all possible support to this initiative launched by UNICEF. We should also be working towards building a society where the people who are living with HIV are accepted.”Karnataka ranks among the top three states in India with over 1 percent HIV prevalence among the adult population with 37% of those infected with HIV being females.
To encourage the youngsters Ms. Malavika, popular Kannada cinema and TV star was also present. She reminded the youth to wait till marriage for their first sexual encounter and urged that those indulging in high-risk behaviour should access services at Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCTC) to get themselves tested and know their status.
Recent anti-natal care (ANC) data shows a prevalence rate of 3.25% amongst the 15-24 years age group and also reveals the increasing vulnerability of younger women to contract the infection.
With this new initiative underway in the current year, UNICEF proposes to cover all young people (15-24 years) in all districts of Karnataka by the end of 2007.